Cal Poly comes from behind to deny Vikings an upset victory in Big Sky opener

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Quarterback Kieran McDonagh of Portland State directs his blockers on a run against Cal Poly. For 30 minutes, Portland State dominated No. 18 Cal Poly in their Big Sky opener. The Vikings completely shut down the Mustangs, moved the ball at will and took a 21-7 lead to the locker room.

Things imploded for PSU in the second half, though. The Vikings shot themselves in the foot numerous times, their offense became impotent, their defense became porous, and Cal Poly surged to a 38-34 victory before an announced crowd of 6,726 at Jeld-Wen Field.

“The first half, we played smart, decisive, disciplined football, made good calls and took advantage of what the opponent was giving us,” Portland State coach Nigel Burton said. “In the second half, that didn’t happen.”

The offense was very good throughout the first half, putting up 21 points on two touchdown passes from Kieran McDonagh and a TD run by Justin Lilley.

Portland State (3-2 overall) finished the night with 487 yards. The Vikings gained 280 yards in the first half, but the Mustangs held them to 207 after that.

McDonagh went 16 of 32 passing for 302 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception.

Portland State also got a strong performance from running back DJ Adams, who gained 126 yards on 25 carries.

Portland State’s defense was nearly bullet proof against Cal Poly’s triple option in the first two quarters. Cal Poly (2-2 overall) was unable to get anything through the air, finishing the half with 17 yards passing, and the Vikings held the Mustangs to 134 yards rushing.

In the second half, though, the Mustangs began moving the ball on the ground effortlessly. Cal Poly rushed for a whopping 297 yards after intermission en route to a 431-yards night on the ground.

Running back Kristaan Ivory had 184 yards on 32 carries, and quarterback Chris Brown ran for 129 yards.

“There were little adjustments to their blocking scheme, but all of a sudden we stopped doing our jobs,” Burton said. “Guys started jumping around and doing things they weren’t doing in the first half. They took advantage of that one guy who didn’t do what we asked them to do. Then, we missed some tackles that we were making in the first half.”

Cal Poly’s effectiveness on the ground chewed up the clock. The Mustangs had 19:26 of possession in the second half and 36:39 total of the 60 minutes.

After Cal Poly scored two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter to tie the score 21-21, the Vikings appeared to catch a break. Early in the fourth quarter, with the ball on the Mustangs' 1-yard-line, Brown threw a pick to David Edgerson, who returned the ball down 11 yards to the Cal Poly 5-yard line.

The Vikings failed to take advantage, though. They did not gain a yard on three plays, and Nick Fernandez pulled a 21-yard field-goal attempt.

On Cal Poly’s next possession, Bobby Zalud made a 32-yard field goal to give the Mustangs their first lead, 24-21.

With 10:35 left in the game, Brown hit a wide-open Akaninyene Umoh over the middle for a 54 yards and a touchdown.

Brown was only 6 of 18 passing on the night for 87 yards, but he threw for two TDs.

Portland State quickly made things interesting, cutting the lead to 31-28 with 10:20 remaining, as McDonagh threw a strike to Victor Dean, who tiptoed down the sideline and got into the end zone for a 57-yard TD.

“It was a play that we had drawn up all week against the Cover 2 they had,” McDonagh said.      

With 7:22 to go, Cal Poly stretch its lead to 38-28, capitalizing on a critical PSU mistake. 

Zalud connected on a 31-yard field goal on fourth down. But PSU lineman Joe Lopez was called for a personal foul for hitting the center, and Cal Poly had an automatic first down.

The Mustangs capitalized, with Brown going outside for a 1-yard TD run that made the score 38-28.

Burton was nonplussed by the referee whistling Lopez for the penalty.

“I’ve been told that the thing I should say is that I’m going to review the film,” Burton said, of the call. “I’m going to do what I’m told on that one.”

Trailing by 10 points with 5:25 left, with hopes still alive, Portland State had a fourth-and-2 from the Cal Poly 7.

The Vikings called time out. When they came out of the timeout, they were flagged five yards for illegal substitution. Now facing a fourth-and-7, the Viks elected to go for it rather than try a field goal. McDonagh’s pass into the end zone was not even close, and Cal Poly got the ball.

Even though the Vikings needed to score 10 points to tie the game, Burton said he did not think about trying to kick the field goal.

“We’ve been way too inconsistent (with the kicking game), and we believe in our offense,” Burton said. “We believe in our ability to convert and make big plays.”

At the 1:51 mark, the Vikings capped a nine-play, 56-yard drive with McDonagh's 11-yard TD pass to Dean and cut the gap to 38-34. But backup kicker Marcus Kinsella missed the extra point.

It would not matter, though, as Portland State failed to recover its onside kick and Cal Poly was able to run out the clock.

Things might not get any easier for Portland State next week, when the Vikings have to go on the road to face perennial Big Sky power Montana.

“It’s disappointing, especially to lose at home,” McDonagh said. “We just fell short. This loss is going to help us in the long run. The guys are going to be hungrier next week, and they’re going to be hungrier throughout the rest of the year.”

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