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Defense shows promise in PSU spring game

Before Portland State's spring game Saturday afternoon at Lincoln High, Vikings quarterback Connor Kavanaugh looked around the locker room and felt a rush of nostalgia for the place where he had spent so many days after school as a Cardinal.

'Being in the locker room, it really brought back some memories,' Kavanaugh said. 'I played four years of football there and was pretty much in there every single day for basketball and track and football. Being back is a walk down memory lane. Other than just throwing the football around, this is the first time I've been back with the pads on on this field. It was fun.'

Kavanaugh, who broke his left (throwing) hand late in the 2010 season, played well in limited action for the Vikings. He completed 3 of 5 passes and had a 14-yard run while wearing a yellow non-contact jersey. The performance helped cement Kavanaugh as the frontrunner for the quarterback position going into the summer.

Other candidates to start at quarterback are senior Drew Hubel, who is coming off a shoulder injury, senior Justin Engstrom and redshirt freshman Josh Milhollin.

'Connor is still that field general, and he can sling it,' Viking coach Nigel Burton said.

The spring game did not follow a typical format. Rather than breaking the squad into teams, the Vikings pitted the offense against the defense, rotating players in and out.

'I really don't like it that much,' Burton said of the spring game format the Vikings used Saturday. 'It's easier for the fans and we get more reps for guys that maybe won't play as much if we go (traditional) offense, defense. But we were a little banged up with the offensive and defensive line, so we felt we had to do it this way.

'Knowing our numbers, and if we can stay healthy, next year we'll probably go back to the format we had last year.'

Under Saturday's guidelines, the offense could score traditional points on field goals and touchdowns as well as collect a single point for first downs. The defense collected one point for stopping the offense from scoring, three points for a three-and-out and six points for a turnover.

After all 67 plays, the offense was on top 44-32.

Burton said he formulated the scoring system after talking to former Vikings coach Tim Walsh, now the coach at Cal Poly.

'Tim has always been a sort of mentor of mine,' Burton said. 'Usually I call him whenever I need something silly. So I called him and said, 'I need an idea, how can you work a scoring system?' I'm not sure that's the one to do, because our defense lost even though they only gave up 25 points and it looked like they got crushed. So we may have to tweak the scoring system again.'

Several players did not participate in the game because of minor injuries. This list included running back Cory McCaffrey and Hubel.

'I don't really sit anybody out unless the medical staff said they shouldn't go today,' Burton said. 'Nobody has anything serious. We came out of this pretty good.'

Engstrom, who took the majority of the reps at QB, completed 11 of 14 passes for 148 yards, including a 46-yard TD pass to Roston Tatum. Milhollin was 3 of 13 passing for 48 yards, an interception and a 12-yard TD pass to Justin Monahan. Milhollin led the Viks on the ground with 10 carries for 66 yards. Running back Willie Griffin carried eight times for 18 yards and a 2-yard TD. Kicker Zach Brown hit a 53-yard field goal.

The defense had two big plays to help its scoring along. Defensive tackle Vincent Johnson recovered a fumble after a sack by defensive end Major Harris. Linebacker Khalil Bass ended the game with an interception.

Linebacker Joe Sisler had seven tackles. Defensive end Brandon Tobias made three tackles, all for a loss, including one sack.

'We saw some good tacking by the defense, and we saw some big plays,' Burton said. 'The biggest thing was, we've got to improve run defense-wise. And that's what we have done this spring, and we saw it today.'

The Vikings will have the rest of the spring and summer to prepare for their opener against Southern Oregon at Jeld-Wen Field on Sept. 3.

Though Kavanaugh likes where the team is after spring practice, the end of the spring game marked the last time he will ever play competitively on the Lincoln High field and thus was a somber event for him.

'I was standing over there on the sideline after coach pulled me out and I was like, this is the last time I'm ever going to play on this Lincoln field,' Kavanaugh said. 'It kind of puts it into perspective. I've been playing football since I was in fourth grade. Now it's starting to finally wind down. You start feeling that the career is coming to an end, unfortunately.'