Portland State Vikings football has gotten off to a roaring start this season, with two wins at home over nationally ranked opponents. And the Vikings have gotten themselves ready for Big Sky Conference play by showcasing a receiving corps that is fast and tough, a defense that gets good penetration and holds tough on third downs, and a brand-new quarterback who has filled NFL-class shoes with consistency and flair.
The Vikings topped Texas A&M-Kingsville 34-21 in their home opener and came back to top No. 20 Nicholls State 44-37 on Sept. 13.
The Vikings started their season against an old rival, Texas A&M-Kingsville, on Thursday, Sept. 4. Because the Vikings and the Javelinas had such a great rivalry in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was “Turn Back the Clock Night” at PGE Park, and general admission tickets were $5, the same price they were when the rivalry started in 1988. It made for a rocking stadium, and more than 10,500 fans showed up. There was even a section of Texas A&M-Kingsville fans cheering their team on. Although at the end of the game, it was the Vikings who deserved more applause.
Both teams knew where they stood as far as their running games were concerned. The Javelinas, ranked 5th in Division II, came equipped with running back Larry Williams, who ran for 1,500 yards and scored 18 touchdowns last season, but the Viking defense held him to 80 yards on 20 carries while Ryan Fuqua, Portland State’s Walter Payton Award candidate, gained 133 yards on 26 carries and scored a touchdown.
It was with receivers and pass defense that the game was really won. Sophomore Adam Whitehead, from Portland’s Grant High School, quadrupled his catch total from last year and showed he will be dangerous for opposing defenses to ignore as he scored the Vikings’ first touchdown of the season in the first quarter. Quarterback Joe Wiser, also starting his first game, faked a handoff, rolled right and hit Whitehead on a crossing pattern. The tight end simply outran the defense to the corner and scored his first touchdown.
And it was the receivers who kept lifting the Vikings up, including two wide receivers who also excel on the oval for PSU track. Jay Williams, who runs the hurdles for the PSU track team, scored his first touchdown as a starter when he caught Wiser’s 6-yard pass up the left side and took it in for a touchdown in front of his mother and sister, who had traveled from Florida and were in the crowd.
Later, wide receiver Ryan Brown, who, like Wiser, hails from Tigard, scored a 12-yard touchdown down the right side to start the fourth period. Whitehead totaled 113 yards and a touchdown on eight catches, and Brown and Williams totaled 70 yards on six catches and two scores.
The Javelinas tried to come back, and the Vikings almost let them, but time ran out before the they could really get anything going.
“That fourth quarter was ugly,” said head coach Tim Walsh. “I wanted us to play cleaner at the end to show the fans what PSU football is all about.”
Joey King, starting his first game at linebacker for the Vikings, had 17 tackles and a sack and was named Big Sky defensive player of the week. He was everywhere. Defensive end Josh Ratliff, entering his final season in a Vikings uniform, sacked the Javelinas quarterback twice, knocked down a pass and forced a fumble. Chris Berg, a junior defensive tackle, recovered the fumble, controlled the middle and seemed to be in on every play.
Against the Nicholls State Colonels, the Vikings faced a ranked opponent running the granddaddy of all offenses, the triple option. The triple option offense has three options: The quarterback can hand off to the fullback plowing up the middle, he can lateral outside to a leading running back, or he can keep it himself. Nicholls State came into the game against the Vikings with 711 yards rushing in two games and only 48 yards passing. And it was their failure to complete the big pass, and Portland State’s tenacity on defense, that finally sealed the Vikings win, 44-37 – although the outcome wasn’t decided until a last-ditch Colonels pass was intercepted at the 3-yard line by Viking linebacker D.J. Robinson as time expired. The Vikings scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
It was clear early that the Colonels would be able to move the ball on Portland State. Every rush, instead of 4 yards and a cloud of dust, was more like 8 yards and out of bounds. Over and over, Nicholls State ran the option, and over and over it worked. PSU entered halftime behind, and the defense, although it was stopping runs up the middle, looked confused by the Colonels’ sweeping runs. It didn’t look good for the Viks, but what a difference a play can make.
With the score tied and a minute left in the fourth quarter, receiver Amad Robinson took a little swing pass near the left sideline, entered the matrix and made the defense look like a slo-mo replay, and sprinted 72 yards down the sideline until he was tripped up at the 4-yard line. Ryan Fuqua ran it in on the next play for the game-winning score. The Colonels actually made it a nail-biter at the end as they put in their passing quarterback and he completed three straight passes all the way to the Viking 8-yard line. But Robinson’s game-saving interception sealed the deal.
Free safety Jamal Abdullah had 16 tackles and returned a bad pitch 30 yards for a touchdown, and the defense stopped the Colonels at crucial times late in the game. The Vikings’ offensive line protected Wiser beautifully, allowing only one short sack and freeing Wiser to pass for 392 yards on 27-35 passing.
The Vikings played their last home game for a month last Saturday in the Big Sky opener against Northern Arizona, but results were unavailable at press time. For information on that game, visit www.GoViks.com.