Football claims first conference win

Led by the career-high numbers put up by quarterback Connor Kavanaugh and running back Cory McCaffrey, the Portland State football team took advantage of its home debut on Saturday and handed the Idaho State Bengals a 38-3 defeat at Hillsboro Stadium.

Led by the career-high numbers put up by quarterback Connor Kavanaugh and running back Cory McCaffrey, the Portland State football team took advantage of its home debut on Saturday and handed the Idaho State Bengals a 38-3 defeat at Hillsboro Stadium.

The win gives Portland State (2-2, 1-0 Big Sky) its first victory at home since last season’s home opener, when the team defeated Southern Oregon on Sept. 12, 2009. It also provides the Vikings with their first conference-opening win in three seasons and is an encouraging start to their eight-game Big Sky schedule.

For first-year head coach Nigel Burton, Saturday provided the first opportunity to show off his new Vikings team in front of home fans. The crowd of 5,025 in attendance should have been pleased with what they saw, as the Vikings ran up 531 yards of total offense, including 315 yards on the ground.

McCaffrey, a junior from Sisters, led PSU’s ground game with a career-high 166 yards rushing on 24 touches, with one touchdown on the ground and another off a Kavanaugh pass to put the first points on the board.

“I was very pleased offensively, with what we were able to do,” Burton said, before adding special tribute to his offensive line. “We challenged them. I’ll be honest; we said we wanted to run the football and we gave them a number, and we hit the number.”

After holding ISU to a three-and-out in the opening possession, the game was nearly all PSU. The Vikings barreled downfield, and an 8-yard touchdown pass from Kavanaugh to McCaffrey on their sixth play gave Portland State a 7-0 advantage and a lead they would never relinquish.

Kavanaugh set new high numbers in both his passing and rushing games. He completed 15 of 19 passes for a career-best 216 yards and two touchdowns, and added 125 yards of rushing with a touchdown carry as well. His and McCaffrey’s numbers marked the first time since 2004 that two Vikings have rushed for 100 yards, and even then it was two running backs: Ryan Fuqua and Joe Rubin.

“You’ve got to credit the offensive line,” Kavanaugh said. “They bust their butts the whole four quarters and are working hard. They’ve got bloody noses. They play their asses off.”

After the offense scored early in the first quarter, the Viking defense added some points of its own. Junior strong safety Manoa Latu picked off a weakly lobbed ball from Bengals’ quarterback Kyle Morris and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown to make the game 14-0 in the first nine minutes of play. Morris would go 13 of 22 for 192 yards with two interceptions and four sacks on the night.

“I think the defense played well,” Burton said. “We talked about just making sure our mental mistakes were low. We still had a couple, but we definitely played better. And that’s our deal: Get better every week.”

Heading into Saturday, the Vikings were looking for revenge against Idaho State (1-4, 0-3 Big Sky). Last year, the Bengals defeated the Vikings by scoring a touchdown with less than a minute remaining on the clock in the final game of the season. It was Idaho State’s only win of the 2009 campaign.

The Vikings would score 10 more points before halftime and another 14 in the third quarter. It was only in the final quarter that they would be held scoreless. Idaho State put up its only points off a 50-yard Brendon Garcia field goal at the end of the first half.

The Vikings shut down Idaho State’s special teams, something they knew they would need to do in order to be successful. Burton credited special teams coach John Ely for preparing his team. “We tackled well, and we swarmed the football—which is what we knew we needed to do in order to stop their guy,” Burton said.

Junior linebacker Ryan Rau led the Viking defense with seven tackles and two pass breakups. Latu was named the Big Sky’s Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his six tackles, two breakups and the interception return. Sophomore Keitrell Anderson led the Vikings receivers with 81 yards from three catches, including a 62-yard reception in the final play of the third quarter.

Senior Julius Thomas, in his first year of collegiate football after playing four seasons of men’s basketball and setting school records in games played and won, caught two passes for 56 yards. His longest was a 37-yard reception in the third quarter that helped set up a McCaffrey touchdown run.

McCaffrey previously played as a receiver on the PSU depth charts, and it wasn’t until this season that he returned to the backfield. As a running back at Sisters High School, he rushed for a state-record 2,925 yards his senior year.

Kavanaugh said McCaffrey’s vision is what makes him so effective. “And he runs hard,” he added. “He’ll get a helmet-to-helmet with some guy, pop back up and say, ‘Give me the ball again.’ “

Sophomore kicker Zach Brown made a 41-yard field goal late in first half, then missed from 39 and 37 yards in the fourth quarter. He went 5-for-5 in kick conversions.

Burton said he was pleased with the support his Vikings received at Hillsboro Stadium—Portland State’s temporary home while PGE Park is being renovated.

“I think the crowd came into it, and the students were awesome,” Burton said on the sidelines, with the band playing “Thriller” in the stands and fireworks crackling behind the scoreboard. “Hopefully we can get even more fans out here to support our guys.”

Portland State began the season on the road with losses to FBS opponents Arizona State and Oregon, and earned a win over future Big Sky-member UC Davis. The Vikings take to the road again this week, facing Montana State on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 12:35 p.m. local time.