North Dakota delivers another blow to winless Vikings
Portland State's football team has absorbed some hard knocks this season.
In some ways, the toughest blow came Saturday before an announced crowd of only 3,002 at Providence Park.
The Vikings, looking to snap a long losing streak, had a struggling opponent down 14-0 early.
But North Dakota, which started the Big Sky game very shakily, outscored Portland State 34-0 in the middle quarters and left town with a 48-21 victory.
"Frustrating," PSU senior receiver Josh Kraght said. "You know you have a bunch of good plaeyrs, a bunch of guys who play really hard. It sucks."
UND's other wins this season came at home, 34-0 over Misouri State on Sept. 9 and 48-38 over Northern Colorado on Oct. 7. North Dakota now is 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big Sky.
PSU still hasn't won since beating UC Davis 51-29 in California on Nov. 5, 2016. The Vikings are now 0-8 for 2017, with an 0-5 conference record. Their losing streak, over two years, is at 10.
But opportunity will knock next week. The Vikings are headed to Cal Poly to face another 0-8, 0-5 team — the Mustangs of coach Tim Walsh, who used to coach at Portland State. Cal Poly took UC Davis to the wire Saturay night before coming up short, 31-28, at Davis.
"We've got three more chances," said PSU coach Bruce Barnum, whose team also will meet Weber State (6-4, 4-1) at Providence Park on Nov. 11 before ending its season at Eastern Washington (5-3, 4-1) on Nov. 18.
"I have a football team that's working hard and deserves to win," Barnum said.
Victory eluded the Viks on Saturday, though, even though the Saturday late matinee couldn't have started much better for them.
North Dakota quarterback Keaton Studsrud failed to hold on a simple snap from under center on the first play from scrimmage. Larry Ross recovered for PSU at the UND 26. Four plays later, starting quarterback Jalani Eason hit Carlos Martin on a fade route from 13 yards, and the Vikings had a 7-0 lead.
On its next possession, North Dakota put together a nice drive, converting four times on third down — until a short pass into the end zone went off a receiver's hands and into the arms of Vikings defensive back Maxwell Howell.
True freshman Eason struck immediately in the air, hitting Josh Kraght for 41 yards. Eason then ran wide for 19 yards, Andre Petties-Wilson ran inside for nine, Eason kept for 10 and Jason Talley smashed the final yard easily for another touchdown. The five-play, 80-yard drive made the score 14-0.
UNC drove again, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Reid Taubenheim hit again midway through the period, this time from 25 yards, slicing the PSU lead to 14-6.
The Fighting Hawks intercepted Eason at the PSU 45 a few moments later, then hit a 43-yard pass on the next play to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by James Johannesson.
UND took its first lead at the 55:55 mark of the third quarter. The five-play, 38-yard drive came after an 11-yard punt by PSU's Hayden Cowden.
Moments later, Santiago made an incredible punt retired, ripping through, bouncing off and breaking away from the entire Portland State punt coverage as he went 64 yards for a touchdown after a 46-yard punt by Cowden. The PAT put North Dakota ahead, 27-14.
Then it was the Fighting Hawks defense. Linebacker Jaxson Turner jumped in the air to deflect a pass by Eason, and the ball came down in the arms of 300-pound defensive end Ausstin Cieslak, who jogged in from the Vikings 5 for another TD. With the PAT, North Dakota led 34-14 with 1:02 left in the third quarter.
That was it for Eason, who gave way at QB to redshirt freshman Davis Alexander.
Portland State got on the move early in the fourth quarter, until the Fighting Hawks intercepted Alexander at their 5.
PSU scored with 8:23 remaining on an eight-yard scramble by Alexander, one play after a pass interference penalty on North Dakota.
But the Vikings defense couldn't stop UND's ground game the rest of the way. North Dakota ran 14 times for 66 yards and used up 7:14 as the Fighting Hawks finished with a rushing edge of 170 yards to PSU's 73.
Straight up the middle, Brady Oliveira ran the final three yards for a touchdown with 1:02 left that left no doubt.
But for good measure, North Dakota scored one more time, when defensive back Ty Shannon knocked the ball out of Alexander's hands and lineman Carlos Wilson rambled 50 yards with it for a touchdown in the closing seconds.
Barnum said he replaced Eason at quarterback simply because "I needed a change," and not because it was one player's fault.
It was the fifth time this season that PSU has scored 22 points or less.
"We need to be more productive in certain areas," Barnum said. "Our scoring numbers are down from years past. Twenty-one points is not my world."
Big plays — made by North Dakota's special teams and defense — were killers, too.
"In the Big Sky, it comes down to a couple of plays, and those can be a 14- or 21-point swing," Kraght said.
Those big plays aren't happening often for the Vikings.
"We're not having those big plays that get you excited on the sideline," Barnum said.
UND 0 13 21 14 — 48
PSU 14 0 0 7 — 21
PSU — Carlos Martin 13 pass from Jalani Eason (Graycen Kennedy kick), 13:11
PSU — Jason Talley 1 run (Kennedy kick), 2:50
UND — Reid Taubenheim 22 FG, 13:42
UND — Taubenheim 25 FG, 6:25
UND — James Johannesson 1 run (Taubenheim kick), 3:45
UND — John Santiago 13 run (Taubenheim kick), 5:55
UND — Santiago 64 punt return (Taubenheim kick), 4:42
UND — Austin Cieslak 5 interception return (Taubenheim kick), 1:02
PSU — Davis Alexander 8 run (Kennedy kick), 8:23
UND — Brady Oliveira 3 run (Taubenheim kick), 1:02
UND — Carter Wilson 50 fumble return (Taubenheim kick), :03
Att. — 3,002