Pocatello, ID – BarnyBall continues to roll during the early stages of the 2015 season.
Portland State took command in the first quarter at Holt Arena and never let 23rd-ranked Idaho State back into the game, winning 34-14, in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.
PSU moves to 2-0 for the first time since the 2011 season, and more importantly 1-0 in Big Sky Conference play. In addition, the 24th-ranked Vikings beat a nationally-ranked team for the first time since 2008.
For the second week in a row, special teams and defense played a major role in the victory. Idaho State managed only 242 yards of offense and was forced into four turnovers. On special teams, the Vikings had a kick return touchdown by Kahlil Dawson and stopped a fake punt attempt.
“Our defense, what a great job to stop that offense, are you kidding me?” said Viking Coach Bruce Barnum. “It’s like a hockey line (with all the players on defense making contributions). They are playing as a group and we don’t have any superstars out there. Not one guy is shining, it’s a team, and its fun to watch.”
On offense the Vikings had another 200-yard rushing game, going for 236 overall. Senior David Jones had a career-high 113 yards on 18 carries.
Idaho State opened the game with a methodical, but effective, drive. The Bengals went 75 yards on 14 plays as quarterback Michael Sanders tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Hagen Graves.
Portland State had an answer though. First, Dawson took the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. On PSU’s first offensive series came another quick score. Trent Riley caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Kuresa in just a four-play series for the Vikings. PSU led 14-7.
“That first drive of theirs, I was like “uh-oh”, said Viking Coach Bruce Barnum, “but we came here talking about weathering the storm. I didn’t think it would happen that quick, bit it was a great flip of the momentum with the kick return.”
“Idaho State has a good football team and this place is hard to play in. It was great to come out like we did. When we started the season, I wanted to win special teams, and we have done it two weeks in a row now.”
The Vikings tacked on three more points in the first quarter after snuffing out the Bengals’ fake punt in their own territory. PSU could not get a first down, but Jonathan Gonzales still booted a 51-yard field goal.
After the sluggish start, PSU’s defense dug in, holding Idaho State without a first down for four straight series. The Bengals had only 15 yards on their final 13 plays in the first quarter.
Just a minute into the second quarter, the Vikings scored again. Utility quarterback Paris Penn swept left for 38 yards and a touchdown. That culminated another six-play, 61-yard scoring drive and the Vikings were in full command, 24-7.
Idaho State’s offense was stymied until finally converting a fourth-down pass that went for a 48-yard touchdown just before halftime. PSU led 24-14 at the break.
The Vikings had 181 yards of offense and the Bengals had 188 at halftime. The difference in the game was the kick return for touchdown and stop of ISU’s fake punt.
Portland State opened the second half with a convincing scoring drive. Following a 33-yard kick return by Dawson, PSU rolled down the field in 10 plays. Kuresa went in on a quarterback keeper from five yards out. The Vikings led 31-14 with 9:36 left in the third quarter.
The defense continued its fine play and gave up only 21 yards in the third quarter. The teams traded turnovers late in the third, but neither could take advantage.
A 36-yard field goal by Gonzales midway through the fourth was the only other score. PSU was able to stop the Bengals and run out the majority of the clock.
Linebacker John Norcross had a game-high 13 tackles, while Jeremy Lutali added 11 stops and intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter. Xavier Coleman and Patrick Onwuasor also had picks for the Vikings.
Kuresa completed 7-16 passes for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed 14 times for 64 yards and a score.
Portland State had 342 yards of total offense.
PSU’s 2-0 start has everyone surprised with the likely exception of the Viking team. Said Barnum: “We were maybe supposed to win one, but now we have won two. We have to reset our goals.”
GAME NOTES: PSU won back-to-back games for the first time since a three-game winning streak, Oct. 26-Nov. 9, 2013… the last time PSU won back-to-back road games was Oct. 29 and Nov. 12, 2011… PSU has now won three straight times in Holt Arena (2011, 2013 and 2015), and beaten the Bengals five times in the last six meetings… it was a bit of a homecoming for Viking Coach Bruce Barnum, who was an Idaho State assistant coach from 1998-2006, including offensive coordinator from 2001-06. Viking special teams coordinator Nick Whitworth was an ISU assistant from 2001-09.