The Vikings went into their Big Sky Conference opener against the Montana State University Bobcats with a certain level of uncertainty. For one, the team is incredibly young. Over 60 of their players are freshman or sophomores, and only 12 starters from last season were going to be rejoining the team. Second, there is the uncomfortable reality of having finished the 2017–18 season dead last in the Big Sky Conference without a single win, which, according to head coach Bruce Barnum, should never happen. Finally, and more relevant to the game at hand, it was largely unknown whether one of the Bobcat’s key pieces—sophomore quarterback Troy Anderson—would be playing, due to an injury sustained to his left hand.
Troy Anderson did, in fact, play, and he played lights out. Passing for 107 yards with one touchdown reception and rushing for 211 yards with two touchdown completions of his own, Anderson put on a show that dashed any hopes of a win for the Vikings in their home opener at Hillsboro Stadium. Barnum did not mince words regarding the opposing QB’s performance, saying that Anderson was “the key reason [the Bobcats] won that game.”
Despite the bitter reality of a season-opening loss, the Vikings showed promise during a game that, while all-but-lost in the latter half, featured a fair amount of traded blows during the first half. Leading the resistance was Portland State’s sophomore QB Davis Alexander. Alexander was given a chance to gain starting experience at the end of last season, boasting impressive numbers: over 250 passing yards per game along with around 120 rushing.
Alexander continued that hot streak during Saturday’s game, making his presence known midway through the second quarter by hurling back-to-back 40-yard and 35-yard passes to freshman and sophomore wide receivers Mataio Talalemotu and Emmanuel Daigbe, respectively. However, the passing game proved to be an unreliable option for Alexander, whose offensive line often gave way to a larger Montana State defensive line, often forcing Alexander out of the pocket. Alexander managed to make use of such situations and put on an adept display of scrambling that left him with 71 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns.
At face value, the final score of 43-23 is prone to giving off an impression—one of a lopsided loss—that does not entirely line up with reality. By the numbers, the Vikings remained toe-to-toe with the Bobcats, completing a virtually identical amount of passing yards, giving up only a single fumble and interception—indicative of impressive ball handling, especially considering the aforementioned pressure the offense was continually facing—and an identical number of third-down conversions.
At the end of the day, PSU found itself on the business end of an opposing quarterback on a warpath and an opposing team which seemed, at times, to simply be bigger and more experienced. While a loss is never the desired outcome for any team, the Vikings managed to show promise in the face of adversity and inspire hope for a turnaround season from a young team starting to find their groove.
The Vikings will spend the next two weeks on the road facing the University of Idaho Vandals, followed by the University of Montana Grizzlies before coming back to host the Northern Colorado Bears at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13 at Providence Park.