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Montana State escapes with 38-36 win over PSU

by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Montana State's Elvis Akpla, from Lincoln High, makes a grab despite the coverage of Portland State's DeShawn Shead. PSU threatened the third-ranked Bobcats at Jeld-Wen Field before falling 38-36 on Saturday.

Near the end of the most hyped Portland State football game in years, Vikings quarterback Connor Kavanaugh was stopped one yard short of the end zone on a 2-point try that would have pulled PSU into a tie with third-ranked Montana State.

Minutes later, as the Vikings walked off the field with a 38-36 loss, the song 'Far Away' by Tyga echoed throughout Jeld-Wen Field.

'We're going to look at the film and there's going to be inches all over the field where if we do this, if we do that, it's going to be a different football game,' Kavanaugh said.

The Vikings (3-2, 2-1 in the Big Sky) are still not out of contention for the league championship or the national playoffs.

Montana State (5-1, 3-0) has yet to lose a Big Sky game, but Vikings coach Nigel Burton said he does not expect that to continue.

'I'll eat my hat if whoever wins this conference doesn't have a loss,' Burton said. 'Our kids absolutely believe that they're still in the hunt. You'll see us all the way to the end.'

The Bobcats had an edge in offensive production over the Vikings, gaining 428 yards to Portland State's 340 before the announced crowd of 9,054. PSU won the special teams battle, though, blocking two punts and a field goal.

On their second drive, the Bobcats were forced to punt from their 38-yard line. Nevin Lewis leaped up over the three backfield blockers and got his hand on Rory Perez's punt. Portland State recovered the ball on the MSU 28.

Four plays later, Kavanaugh took the snap and ran to his left. As the defense closed around him, he pitched the ball to Cory McCaffrey. The 5-9, 185-pound back sprinted for the corner and just got into the end zone to put the Vikings up 7-0.

'I knew I had a certain amount of space to work with, so I took advantage and dove for the pylon,' McCaffrey said.

Portland State blocked another Montana State punt with 3:17 remaining in the first quarter. This time, Tyler Cope got a piece of the ball.

Starting at its 44, Portland State moved to the 3, but had to settle for Zach Brown's 21-yard field goal and a 10-0 advantage.

On their next two drives, Montana State took advantage of a lack of communication in the Vikings secondary. Tight end Steven Foster released from the line and caught a 5-yard TD. Then, running back Tray Robinson came out of the backfield and caught a 24-yard TD to put the Bobcats up 14-10.

'There were a couple of plays where we just didn't play disciplined,' PSU linebacker Ryan Rau said. 'We left defenders out on their own.'

Portland State made the score 14-13 with a 28-yard Brown field goal.

The Bobcats went into halftime leading 21-13, after receiver John Ellis torched Portland State defensive back Karrington Jones on a pump-and-go route and caught a 69-yard TD pass from DeNaris McGhee, who would go on to throw for four touchdowns and 255 yards, completing 15 of 22 passes.

On the Vikings' first drive of the second half, McCaffrey took a sweep around the right side, picked up a downfield block from Kavanaugh and exploded down the sidelines for a 49-yard touchdown to make the score to 21-19.

'I saw him bounce outside and I was like, 'I'm going to do what I can to help him,' ' Kavanaugh said. 'I ended up getting a nice block for him, which is fun.'

The Vikings tried to run in a 2-point conversion out of a swinging gate PAT formation. Kavanaugh's run up the middle was stopped, though.

With 10:36 remaining in the third quarter, McGhee took a sneak into the end zone to put MSU up 27-19.

But the defense kept Portland State in the game, as defensive tackle Myles Wade blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt.

'I was just trying to anticipate the snap count,' Wade said.

At the 3:07 mark of the third quarter, McGhee completed a 6-yard pass to former Lincoln High receiver Elvis Akpla for a TD and a 35-19 lead.

Portland State made the score 35-22 on Brown's 47-yard field goal.

Montana State then got down to the Vikings' 9-yard line and regained its 16-point edge when Jason Cunningham kicked a 26-yard field goal with 6:52 left.

Portland State roared back on its next possession. The Vikings put together a nine-play, 63-yard drive that McCaffrey capped with a 1-yard sweep to the left.

McCaffrey finished the game with 119 yards and three TDs on 21 carries.

Down 38-28, the Vikings elected to go for two points. Kavanaugh took the snap, dropped back and threaded the needle between two Bobcat defenders. Nevin Lewis came up with the catch.

Montana State brought its hands team onto the field, expecting an onside kick. With everyone playing up, Brown pooch-kicked deep. PSU's Justin Lilly got to the ball, giving the Vikings possession at the 17.

Three plays later, Kavanaugh found receiver Kalua Noa wide open for a 15- yard TD with 2:52 remaining.

'They were in man coverage, and Kalua Noa just made a great slant route and caught the high ball, just making me look good,' said Kavanaugh, who wound up 15 of 26 passing for 127 yards, along with 15 rushes for 75 yards.

The Vikings went for two points and a tie, but Kavanaugh was stopped as he tried to take an option into the end zone.

'They strung it out,' he said. 'They took away my pitch man. I just tried to dip my shoulder and get what I could. They made a nice play and stopped me a yard short.'

The Vikings tried another long pooch kick, but the ball went into the end zone. And then the PSU defense couldn't stop Montana State from getting first downs on the ground before time expired.

'Everybody was trying their hardest to strip that ball,' Wade said. 'Unfortunately, they were gaining yards.'

The Vikings will have to regroup before going on the road to face Montana next Saturday.

'This team is getting better,' Kavanaugh said. 'We're going in the right direction. That's what we can take away from this game.

"We're going to watch the film and learn from this game and get right back on the road, head to Montana and play a fantastic football game.'