A strong defensive effort in the second half was exactly the spark that Portland State football needed to shake off a slow start and trounce the University of California, Davis 49-21 on Saturday. Senior linebacker Ian Sluss was the centerpiece of the effort, singlehandedly ending four Aggie drives in the fourth quarter and finishing the game with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Playing their second straight road game in California, the Vikings rebounded from a loss the week before to improve to 3-5 on the year.
Freshman Thomas Carter opened the scoring on PSU’s first offensive series, rushing from four yards out to cap a five-play, 85-yard drive. But the Aggies kept the game close in the first two quarters, disrupting the Vikings offense for long stretches and controlling the time of possession. UC Davis tied the game near the end of the first quarter, putting together a 12-play, 75-yard series that culminated in Randy Wright’s five-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Soto.
Kieran McDonagh reclaimed the lead for Portland State with 9:48 left in the second quarter, bursting through the middle for a 23-yard touchdown run. The Aggies then drove down the field to even the game as Wright and Soto connected for another score.
It looked as though UC Davis might take the lead after McDonagh threw an interception in the final minute of the half. The Aggies failed to capitalize on the mistake, however, missing a 50-yard field goal with four seconds left on the clock, and the teams went to their locker rooms tied at 14-14.
PSU seized control immediately in the third quarter, with McDonagh finding his range in the pocket and junior running back DJ Adams leading a rejuvenated rushing attack. McDonagh finished the game 12-for-21 with 250 yards passing, and Adams, the University of Maryland transfer, led the team on the ground with 139 yards on 19 carries. The Vikings scored on their first two possessions of the half, and took a 28-14 lead into the final period.
As the fourth quarter got underway, Sluss took over and turned a relatively tight contest into a rout. His first interception came as UC Davis drove inside the PSU 30-yard line, threatening to pull within a touchdown. Reading the play perfectly, Sluss stepped right in front of Wright’s pass and returned it 13 yards. Three plays later, McDonagh hit junior Justin Lilley for a 68-yard touchdown strike that widened the gap further.
On their next series, the Aggies scored on a 20-yard burst by running back Marquis Nicolis. Still up 14 points, the Vikings stalled on their next series and were forced to punt after three plays. But just as UC Davis started to harbor dreams of a comeback, Sluss picked off another Wright pass and returned it 31 yards for his second touchdown of the season. The Aggies would go on to cough up the ball on their final two possessions, with Sluss recovering both fumbles to seal the victory.
The Vikings return home to face the University of Northern Colorado on Saturday at Jeld-Wen Field, before ending the season with matchups against Montana State University and top-ranked Eastern Washington University.