The ride is almost over for the Portland State football team. With Saturday’s painful 36-34 loss to Idaho State the Vikings saw their record drop to 5-5 and their playoff hopes drop off the face of the earth. It all adds up to another frustrating year for the Viks, the third such year in a row.
One can’t blame the team’s willingness to play hard in hard games. The Vikings played a simply brutal schedule this season. Away games against Big Sky powerhouses Montana and Eastern Washington. Tough road games against unforgiving Division I-A teams Oregon State and Boise State. Unfortunately the Vikings have been terrible on the road. All five Viking losses have happened away from PGE Park, including Saturday’s loss to the Bengals that effectively ended the Vikings’ playoffs hopes.
So oh well, right? That’s Portland State sports. We always come close but it never comes easy. I don’t think so. This was a good team. They battled hard in the beginning when the offense wasn’t clicking, when Sawyer Smith looked like he wasn’t capable of running a high school JV squad.
To find the positives in a year where it seems at first glance that the Vikings took a step backward is to look at how far the team has come since their opening-day loss at OSU. There have been big wins, most notably the 44-41 thriller over Montana State at home and the 45-0 shutout of Northern Arizona the following week.
On Oct. 22, the Vikings were on top of the Big Sky. At 5-3 with only one conference loss the team looked hungry and dangerous. There was infinite possibility. Yet this is college football. You have to savor the moments when your team is on top, because just as quickly it can all be taken away.
To be 3-1 four games into the conference schedule in the Big Sky is a huge achievement. But to be 3-3 and headed for an off-season of frustration and another winter of what-ifs can happen just as easily. And for most teams, including the Vikings, it is far more common.
It’s sad, because this team has some talented players and at times has been pretty fun to watch. Senior running back Joe Rubin has been punking defensive lines all season long. In 10 games Rubin has racked up 1,531 yards and 14 touchdowns, including a game where he rushed for over 300 yards.
Rubin hasn’t shouldered the whole offensive burden. Senior wide receiver Shaun Bodiford turned himself into an electrifying kickoff returner and with Sawyer Smith’s emergence late as a true passing threat, Bodiford has been racking up receiving yards as well.
For Bodiford and Rubin and senior fullback Allen Kennett and so many other seniors on both sides of the ball, this is the end of the line. There’s one last game to play, one game to ease the pain of missing the playoffs, to secure a winning record for the season. One game that’s as important and big as any bowl game. Any playoff game. The prize isn’t a national championship. But to this Viking team that has fought all year long, it may be just as meaningful.