It was another tough week for the Vikings football team against their Big Sky opponent the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. Heading into the game, both teams held 1–1 conference records and were in big need of a win to get above .500 in conference play.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Vikings struck on a seven-play, 88-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a 66-yard run by redshirt freshman Steven Long, which set up a five-yard touchdown run by Nate Tago.
Later in the second quarter, the Lumberjacks drove down the field and scored on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Cartwright to Casey Jahn. On the ensuing drive, the Vikings strung together a seven-play, 44-yard drive, only to have a McDonagh pass picked off by Marcus Alford and returned 67 yards for NAU’s second score of the game.
Heading into the third quarter the Vikings were down 14–7. With NAU receiving the second half kickoff, Portland State quickly forced a punt. On the first play of the following drive, Steven Long continued to dazzle the crowd with an explosive 62-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 14–14.
After a quick three and out coupled with a poor punt by the Lumberjacks, the Vikings began their next drive from near midfield. PSU took advantage of the good field position by putting together a 39-yard drive with help from a 24-yard Steven Long run that resulted in a 31-yard field goal by Johnathon Gonzales.
With a 14–17 lead, the Vikings received the ball on their own nine-yard line after forcing another punt. With the fourth quarter starting as the Vikings began their drive, PSU quickly marched 89 yards down the field, only to turn the ball over on downs on the Lumberjacks’ two-yard line.
Both teams exchanged punts before NAU converted an 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 21–17 lead. The Vikings got the ball on their own 30-yard line, and after a quick three and out, failed to put together a comeback drive before the game clock expired.
Even though this was a heartbreaking loss at home, looking ahead, there are some bright spots for the Vikings. Running back Steven Long dominated the running attack averaging 15.8 yards per carry on 16 carries for 253 yards and one touchdown. This was the ninth-best performance by a running back in school history.
With the passing game struggling and quarterback Kieran McDonagh only completing 5 of 11 passes for 66 yards, no touchdowns and one interception, developing the running game will be crucial for future success. A dominant performance by a redshirt freshman such as this should give Vikings fans something to look forward to heading down the stretch and in seasons to come.
Up next for the Vikings is an away game against a winless Weber State Wildcats. Not only have the Wildcats failed to win a game, but they’ve also been terrible against the run. In their seven games so far this year, they’ve given up an average of 226.9 yards per game and a total of 19 rushing touchdowns to opposing teams. If this trend continues and Vikings running backs continue to be successful on the ground, there’s no reason PSU shouldn’t be 2–2 after this Saturday.