The Portland State football program locked itself into a winning record after defeating the Sacramento State Hornets 29-20 at Jeld-Wen Field last Saturday. The Vikings (6-3 overall, 4-2 conference) are riding a three-game winning streak for the first time in nearly five years, snapping a three year skid to the Hornets (3-6 overall, 2-5 conference). With only two games remaining in the regular season, the Vikings must win the rest of their games in order to maintain third place in the Big Sky conference and keep their postseason dreams alive.
“We want to get this program to the point where we win because we are confident, not we are confident because we are winning,” Vikings head coach Nigel Burton said. “I think [the winning streak] continues to build to that mantra.”
The win was not pretty, as trouble running the ball, costly turnovers and tough defense from Sacramento State kept them within striking distance. After jumping out to an early 9-0 lead, the Vikings allowed the Hornets back into the game, but clung to a 16-14 lead at the half.
“We need to cut out the mistakes,” Kavanaugh said. “The defense bailed us out today.”
Costly mistakes were made in the first half, including an interception thrown by Kavanaugh which was returned for a touchdown. A bad snap that was fumbled on the one-yard line led to another easy touchdown for the Hornets.
Portland State regained control in the second half after a score and a field goal brought the score to 26-14. Sacramento State answered with a touchdown, but another Vikings field goal and a late interception by safety DeShawn Shead sealed the win.
The ground game was not a major factor for either team as passing attacks dominated. The Vikings were held 100 yards below their season average running the ball, attaining 150 yards on the ground, while the Hornets only managed 178 yards rushing. Senior tailback Willie Griffin started for the Vikings, taking the bulk of the handoffs to lead all rushers with 92 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Kavanaugh contributed on the ground as well, rushing for 89 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
A big day through the air for quarterback Connor Kavanaugh helped spark the Vikings offense. Kavanaugh had one of the best passing games of his career, connecting on 12 of 25 passes for 271 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“Everyone on this team has confidence in our receivers to make plays downfield and they did,” Kavanaugh said. “They made me look good.”
The Vikings receiving group dominated the Hornets secondary as four players caught passes of 20 yards or greater. Coach Burton showed confidence in his quarterback’s arm, allowing Kavanaugh to throw the ball deep on multiple occasions, including a beautiful 57-yard strike to senior wideout Justin Monahan, who had a career best 154 yards and a touchdown on six catches to lead all receivers. Monohan felt like this was the receiving groups day to shine.
“They started running man to man on us and the receivers started licking their chops; we love that,” Monahan said.
The passing opportunities against Sacramento were not ignored despite the noted concerns over the Vikings’ passing performances so far this season. Despite losing their star running back Cory McCaffrey to injury against Montana only a few weeks ago, Portland State’s offense has kept pushing forward, as they accumulated 421 yards of total offense this weekend.
The Vikings defense held Sacramento State to 307 yards of total offense and shutdown key plays for the Hornets, including a pair of two-point conversion attempts. Senior safety DeShawn Shead led the defense with eight tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and a late-game interception in the closing minutes to end the Hornets hopes of a comeback.
Quarterback Jeff Fleming led the rushing attack for the Hornets, attaining 78 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Fleming split time with Garrett Safron but after a dismal showing from Safron, Fleming took over and completed 19 of 30 passes for 129 yards and one interception.
Portland State now takes to the road for the last time in the regular season to face a winless Northern Colorado squad. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and can be heard on Freedom 970 AM.