The scene was a familiar one at Providence Park on Saturday: An efficient Tim Walsh offense dominated Portland State’s football game and led his team to a dominant victory.
The problem for Portland State is that Walsh, who led the Vikings for 14 years, now coaches at Cal Poly. Walsh’s coldly efficient, run-oriented Mustangs threw a whole panorama of running backs and a thick book of plays at their coach’s former team and beat the Vikings 55-35.
Nineteenth-ranked Cal Poly, the Big Sky Conference’s leading rushing team, threw 658 yards of total offense at a young Portland State defense. The Mustangs’ triple-option attack ran for 462 yards, and when the Vikings cheated up to stop the run, quarterback Dano Graves threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns.
Cal Poly, 4-2, had three rushers over 100 yards: Kyle Lewis (158), Kori Garcia (141) and Joe Protheroe (101). The Mustangs never had to punt in the game.
Portland State quarterback Alex Kuresa did the best he could against the Mustangs, throwing for a career-high 275 yards and two touchdowns and running for two more. But the young PSU defense took a pounding against a conference offensive heavyweight.
The Mustangs cruised to a 27-14 halftime lead, throwing 339 yards of total offense at the home team. They had scoring drives of 76, 77, 74 and 82 in the half, all run-heavy, but two ending in touchdown passes.
The Vikings showed they were game though. Just 10 minutes into the contest, PSU had run only three plays and they trailed 13-0. But that turned just as suddenly when junior Kahlil Dawson took the ensuing kickoff at the PSU 17 and started upfield. He found his blockers at about the 35 and cut outside to the right, then outran all the horses for an 83-yard touchdown that put his team back in the game in a matter of 12 seconds.
The Vikings got their only stop of the first half when JJ Koski caught a Graves pass, but fumbled it away to Viking linebacker John Norcross on the PSU 38.
Kuresa righted the PSU offensive ship on a 9-play, 62-yard scoring drive that included a spectacular one-foot-in catch of a Kuresa pass by Trent Riley on the Cal Poly 7.
On the third play after that, Kuresa dropped back to pass, saw all of his options covered and fled to the right corner. He beat all the Mustangs to the cone for the touchdown and a 14-13 Viking lead early in the second quarter.
The Mustangs recovered quickly, though, and marched 74 yards in 11 plays to retake the lead. Garcia got the points on a 7-yard option pitch from Graves for a 20-14 lead.
Cal Poly struck again on their last possession of the first half with an 82-yard, 12-play sortie that ended with a 5-yard burst by Protheroe for the score with 23 seconds left until halftime.
The drive included a tricky transcontinental pass on fourth down at the PSU 44. Garcia took the pitch and headed right with the rest of his blockers, then wheeled and lobbed the ball back to Graves, all alone on the left side. The quarterback made it 30 yards to the PSU 14 before anybody could stop him.
Those last two touchdowns of the second quarter and the first one of the third period gave the Mustangs all the cushion they would need to keep the Vikings at arms’ length for the rest of the game.
The second half, then, was the picture of two heavyweights landing haymakers on each other, but neither could stop the other and the Mustangs maintained their comfort level the rest of the way. Neither team punted in the second half.
Portland State did get some impressive offensive performances in the final two quarters, not the least of which was by Kuresa. The senior quarterback threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third in the second half as the Vikings tried to get back in the game, but the Mustangs were just too far ahead for the Vikings to ever challenge them.
PSU had 347 yards of total offense in the game. Paris Penn was the leading rusher with 14 carries for 68 yards, but PSU’s running game was taken out of it in the second half when the Vikings had to play catch-up. The Vikings also missed running back Nate Tago, who sat out with a shoulder injury.
Josh Kraght had a career-high six catches for 83 yards to lead the receiving corps.
Norcross made a career-high 15 tackles with the fumble recovery. Beau Duronslet made 12 stops and Tyler Foreman had 11.
The Vikings, now 2-5 on the season, get a week off to heal before they come back to Providence Park on Oct. 29 to face Northern Colorado.