Dreams of a Big Sky championship and the playoffs will have to wait for another year. After a slow start, this year Portland State can only play for pride.
After beating UC Davis 49-21 on the road last week, the Vikings came home to Jeld-Wen Field and an announced crowd Saturday afternoon of 5,077 to face lowly Northern Colorado.
The Vikings led 6-3 after the first quarter, 21-10 at halftime and 28-10 with 9:51 remaining in the third quarter. Then they were the victim of three critical penalties that changed the momentum.
Portland State saw two touchdown plays called back because of penalties, then kept a Northern Colorado touchdown drive alive with a late hit on the quarterback on third-and-long.
Pride was not enough to overcome those three penalties, and the Vikings fell 32-28.
A breakdown in discipline and focus is what happened, Vikings coach Nigel Burton said. And its a shame because they were playing well and doing what they needed to do to win and when the discipline and focus disappeared, so did the scoreboard.
Throughout the first half, the Vikings (3-6, 2-4 in the Big Sky) relied heavily on the wildcat offense, with running back Thomas Carter taking a good share of the snaps.
The strategy did not work well and was eventually scrapped.
Portland State finished the game with 342 yards of total offense (189 yards rushing, 153 yards passing).
Northern Colorado finished with 346 yards of total offense (18 yards rushing, 316 yards passing).
On Portland States first drive of the game, quarterback Kieran McDonagh threw an interception to Kyle Griffin on the Northern Colorado 46-yard line.
The Bears (3-6, 2-4 in the Big Sky) were able to parlay the interception into a 30-yard field goal by Dave Eden to take a 3-0 lead.
The Vikings drove 75 yards in seven plays and got a 1-yard touchdown run up the gut by Justin Lilly. Zach Browns PAT attempt was blocked, and the Vikings led 6-3.
In the second quarter, both teams failed to knock field goals through the uprights. Brown missed a 44-yard attempt, and then Eden missed a 32-yarder with 7:09 remaining in the half.
Portland State went 80 yards in eight plays, and DJ Adams finished the 2:26 drive with an 8-yard touchdown run for a 13-3 PSU lead.
It was a stretch play, Adams said. My guys got a hat on a hat, we had a chance to get to the edge, and it worked out.
Northern Colorado came back with an eight-play, 77-yard touchdown drive of its own, though.
On the ensuing kickoff, PSU return man Nevin Lewis got to the Bears' 41.
The Vikings took advantage of the stellar field position and moved to the Northern Colorado 8. On second down, McDonagh completed a pass to a wide-open Keitrell Anderson in the back of the end zone.
We knew they were trying to stop the fade ball, McDonagh said. We ran a second level play, someone over the flat, someone over the top trying to catch them biting, and Keitrell opened up in the back of the end zone. It worked out great.
McDonagh finished the game 17 of 31 passing for 153 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
On the PAT, the Vikings used a bit of trickery to score a 2-point conversion. After lining up in an unbalanced formation, the ball was snapped to Carter. He tried to run, but when he was met by Bears defenders, he tossed a shovel pass to Marquis Jackson, who got across to give the Viks a 21-10 lead just 17 seconds before halftime.
On Northern Colorados first drive of the third quarter, Lobato was picked off by Williams, and the Vikings took over on the Bears' 35.
McDonagh then threw a screen pass to Justin Monahan, who fired the ball downfield for Lewis.
Lewis caught the pass in the end zone, but the touchdown was called back for an illegal forward pass by Monahan.
The replay shown on the Jeld-Wen Field scoreboard appeared to show that McDonaghs pass to Monahan went backward and that Monahan threw the pass to Lewis from behind the line of scrimmage. The penalty was met with boos from the Portland State faithful, but the call stood.
It was critical, Burton said. Theres a lot of things that Im going to have to look at (on) the film. Because there were a lot of interesting things.
The Vikings were eventually forced to punt on the Northern Colorado 35-yard-line and Thomas Duyndams kick went into the end zone for a touchback.
After a three-and-out, Northern Colorado lined up to punt. Bears punter Mason Puckett was unable to field a low snap and was tackled at the Bears 14-yard-line.
Three plays later, Adams ran in a 4-yard touchdown up the middle.
It was a jumbo package and the heavy artillery, Adams said. We were just trying to bang it in there and get the little yards and it worked out.
Adams finished the game with 15 carries for 90 yards and two TDs.
Browns PAT made the score 28-10 with 9:51 remaining.
Northern Colorado was not finished fighting, though. Dominick Gunn returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown.
On their next possession, the Bears drove for a score, with Lobato getting over from the 1.
Down 28-22, the Bears completed a two-point pass to pull within a field goal.
The referees' whistles again went against Portland State with 10:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. A 63-yard touchdown pass from McDonagh to Monahan was called back because of offensive pass interference.
On the Bears' next possession, Portland State kept the drive alive when linebacker Khalil Bass was whistled for a late hit on Lobato when he slid on third-and-long.
It was important, Burton said. It kept the drive going when they were stopped. You cant complain about the call. Were a smarter football team than that. That was just one of those focus issues. The guy is down, he slides, hes well short of the first down, theres no point in even coming close and making it a judgment call.
Northern Colorado took advantage. Lobato threw a 29-yard TD pass to Gunn, and the Bears went up 32-28 after the PAT.
Portland State has two very challenging games to finish the season. Next week, the Vikings will travel to Bozeman to play Montana State. The following week, they have a home game against Eastern Washington.
Burton said that it is critical that the Vikings put the loss to Northern Colorado behind them and try to finish the season with pride.
You have no choice, Burton said. We have another game in less than seven days. We put the film to bed, win or lose, every Sunday. Thats what we have to do. Im going to be upset for 24 hours and at that point, you have to go back to work.