As expected, Alex Kuresa did Alex Kuresa things at quarterback and Nate Tago ran with power and authority from the running back spot.
Together, Kuresa and Tago combined for 259 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in Saturday’s come-from-behind 43-26 victory over Central Washington, while Kuresa completed 16-of-26 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns in one of his best performances throwing the football in 13 career starts for Portland State.
In short, the ball was in the hands of Kuresa and Tago a lot throughout the three-hour battle at Providence Park.
“It was a heckuva start, true grit,” Portland State head coach Bruce Barnum told Viking Tales. “I told them before the game started that nobody knows who you are, that I didn’t know who you are. They had no ID.”
Kuresa and Tago stepped up in crunch time, scoring PSU’s final two touchdowns, respectively, on 21 and 8-yard runs. Barnum has so much confidence in Tago that the other PSU running backs combined for just six carries, five for 27 yards by Paris Penn.
“Just because the game was close. I knew Nate could get us through this,” said Barnum, whose teams trailed, 26-21, after three quarters. “The other ones have some unknowns to them. Nate didn’t, and that’s why he got the majority of the carries.”
But the Vikings might not have won the game had multiple newcomers not stepped to the forefront, beginning with graduate transfer tight end Maximo Espitia, who led the Vikings receiving corps with five catches for 88 yards and one TD, a 4-yard grab from Kuresa with 14:55 remaining, one of three fourth-quarter touchdowns scored by Portland State.
Espitia, a graduate of South Salem (Ore.) High School, transferred to PSU after graduating from the University of California in May with a degree in sociology. Most intriguing part? Prior to Saturday, Espitia had not played in a competitive football game since 2013.
He appeared in 19 games for Cal in 2012-13, but did not play in 2014 (he was suspended for the first half of the season before being reinstated by Cal head coach Sonny Dykes) and missed the entire 2015 season due to an injury.
“He was fun to watch,” Portland State head coach Bruce Barnum told Viking Tales. “He played like a veteran.”
The Vikings defense featured five new starters Saturday with a variety of backgrounds, including 6-foot-2, 285-pound freshman defensive tackle Anthony Del Toro, one of the biggest surprises of preseason camp. Del Toro starred at Grants Pass (Ore.) High School, earning first-team All-State honors as a junior and senior. He was named Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year in both 2014 and 2015.
Saturday, Del Toro registered five tackles and one sack in his Portland State debut.
“Anthony Del Toro went from doing all right to being an impact player in the second half of that football game,” Barnum said. “It was cool to watch. He is a strong, solid, smart, very mature kid. Since we’re a quarter school, classes won’t start for another three games. So, he doesn’t have any concerns right now (beyond the football field). This is a great place to break a young guy in because school is a whole other world. Right now, all they have is football.”
In addition to Del Toro, four defensive players who were with the Vikings in 2015 were new starters from a season ago – MLB Anthony McNichols, OLB Austin Wolff, CB Artuz Manning and FS Tyler Foreman, who transferred from UCLA in the summer of 2015.
Saturday, NcNichols led the Portland State defense with 10 tackles, one sack and one pass breakup, while Wolff, mostly a special teams contributor in 2015 after transferring from Palomar College, collected 8 tackles and one sack.
Like safety Walter Santiago, McNichol petitioned the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries. He appeared in just three games in 2014, leading the Viks in tackles at Oregon State in the opener, and four games in 2015.
“He’s been around, but he hasn’t played,” Barnum said. “So, I see him as a new guy. He’s a senior who has been hit and miss. He has been hurt a lot.”
— Nick Krupke (@NickKrupke) September 5, 2016
— Portland State FB (@viks_football) September 5, 2016