Stingy defense and a bruising ground attack made the football team the most improved team in the Big Sky, but two heart-wrenching defeats likely left players and fans wondering what might have been.
After injuries and ineptitude resulted in a disappointing 4-7 campaign in 2003, the Vikings regrouped behind a healthy offensive line and a deep, relentless defense (7-4, 4-3) to go and nearly earn an invite to the D1-AA postseason playoffs.
The Viks showed their potential in a season-ending four-game win streak, highlighted by a 35-32 home victory over the Montana Grizzlies, a team that would go on to play for the national title.
Frustrating back-to-back last-minute losses to Montana State and Northern Arizona were all that kept the Vikings from finishing in a tie for first place. Against Montana State, PSU led the entire game before surrendering a game-tying touchdown as the clock ran out and then losing on the first series of overtime, 31-24. Against Northern Arizona, PSU blew a 10-point lead in the game’s final seven minutes to lose 21-20.
Both losses were partially the products of a conservative offensive attack that was all too often rendered one-dimensional by a thin corps of wide receivers and quarterback Joe Wiser’s inability to get the ball to them.
Senior Ryan Fuqua and junior Joe Rubin proved to be two of the conference’s best running backs, with Fuqua dancing for a league-high 102.1 yards per game and Rubin barreling through defenses for 82.5 yards a contest, good for fifth best in the Big Sky. Fuqua notched his third 1,000-yard season and moved into third on the all-time PSU rushing list. Both benefited from an offensive line with three All-Big Sky second team performers.
Defensive tackles Chris Berg and Chuck Jones were among the 11 other Viks to earn All-Big Sky honors and were big reasons PSU’s defense ranked first in all the major defensive categories and held opponents to the fewest points.