Cedar City, UT – Portland State ran into a Homecoming buzzsaw at Southern Utah, as the defending Big Sky Conference Champions beat the Vikings, 45-31, in the 2016 league opener.
The Vikings committed five turnovers in the game, severely hampering their chances for a victory. And, the Thunderbirds scored four touchdowns of 70 yards or longer. Still, PSU was at the three-yard line with 26 seconds left and a chance to tie as it trailed, 38-31. But, in the face of a blitz, Alex Kuresa threw an interception that was returned 98 yards by Jermaine Doubs to seal the win for Southern Utah.
PSU lost its third straight game and dropped to 1-3 on the season, 0-1 in the Big Sky. Southern Utah is now 2-1, 1-0.
“Turnovers hurt. You can’t go on the road against a quality football team like that and turn the ball over,” said Viking Coach Bruce Barnum. “We made those mistakes and we have to clean that up. I liked the fight in the second half. The first half was muddy but I liked what I saw from my team in terms of how they reacted.”
The Big Sky’s two best defensive teams in 2015 came out with similar fire in the opening conference game of 2016. Both offenses were shut down for the majority of the first quarter, with Portland State making two early interceptions, while Southern Utah picked off one.
The Vikings turned an early interception by Davond Dade into three points a few moments later when Jonathan Gonzales kicked a 37-yard field goal.
On the other side, Southern Utah struggled to move the football until late in the quarter. The Thunderbirds benefited from a roughing the punter call on Portland State to extend a drive. Raysean Pringle then put the T-Birds ahead on a 37-yard run with 54 seconds left in the quarter.
Portland State took the lead back on a crazy play early in the second quarter. Kuresa hit Josh Kraght on a 16-yard pass down to the Southern Utah 6. But he fumbled on the tackle. Tight end Maximo Espitia was able to pick the loose ball up and dive into the end zone for a score and a 10-7 PSU lead.
Southern Utah’s offense exploded in the remainder of the second quarter scoring two touchdowns on big plays, and a third after a Viking turnover. Mike Sharp caught a 90-yard touchdown pass, followed by a 71-yard TD run from Pringle. Sharp caught his second score late in the half on a 24-yard pass play. A 40-yard field goal on the final play of the quarter allowed the T-Birds to go into halftime with a 31-10 advantage.
By halftime the Thunderbirds had outgained the Vikings 423 yard to 80.
Portland State opened the second half with a 90-yard scoring drive. A key 42-yard connection from Kuresa to Espitia on a third-and-nine play kept the drive alive. A few plays later, Nate Tago scored on a 10-yard run, making the score 31-17.
After a defensive stop by the Vikings they were pinned back to their own four-yard line after a punt. But Kuresa drove his team 96 yards this time, running 12 plays. The quarterback scored on a 17-yard run and it was 31-24 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
But before the paint was dry on that Viking score, Southern Utah came back with another huge run. On the first play of the ensuing series, Malik Brown went off right tackle for 87 yards and a touchdown. It was 38-24 Southern Utah, but the Vikings still had life.
Early in the fourth quarter Kuresa converted a big fourth-and-four play when he hit Paris Penn streaking down the left sideline with a 34-yard touchdown reception. PSU trailed by only a touchdown with 12:08 left, 38-31.
After struggling early, the Viking defense forced four straight three-and-outs by Southern Utah in the fourth quarter. The Thunderbirds ran 12 offensive plays for minus-24 yards in those series’.
After Penn’s touchdown, the Vikings had three possessions, resulting in losing the ball on downs and two interceptions.
Southern Utah outgained the Vikings 541-509 overall in the game. After two early picks, Patrick Tyler settled down to throw for 249 yards and two scores. The Thunderbirds ran for 292 yards, with big scoring runs of 87 and 71 yards.
Kuresa completed 15-33 passes for 264 yards and two scores but had four interceptions. He also rushed 18 times for 133 yards and a touchdown.
GAME NOTES: Espitia had seven receptions for 138 yards,,, Chris Seisay made eight tackles to lead the Vikings… Most Likio intercepted a pass and had five tackles… PSU is 0-3 on the road this season… the Vikings lead the all-time series with SUU, 9-4, but trailed the Big Sky series, 3-1… Portland State returns for its Big Sky Conference home opener next Saturday at Providence Park. The Vikings host Idaho State at 2:30 p.m.