football winEverything came together for the Vikings this weekend. Led by a near-perfect performance from quarterback Sawyer Smith (16-21, 244 yards, five touchdowns), 20th-ranked PSU blew out the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks 45-0 at PGE Park in a game that was basically over before the first quarter even ended.
Capitalizing off of linebacker Ryan Friesen’s forced fumble, the Viks put up six on a Smith to Brendan Ferrigno 40-yard out-route only 26 seconds into the game and PSU never looked back.
The Vikings, who undoubtedly played their best game of the season in manhandling the Lumberjacks, now own sole possession of first-place in the Big Sky Conference. PSU raised its record to 5-3 (3-1 Big Sky) with the win as they travel to Missoula next weekend to face conference rival Montana in a game that will define the rest of their season.
For the first time this year, the Vikings truly opened up their offense. Smith threw completions to seven different receivers. Joe Rubin chalked up 131 yards. Shaun Bodiford had five receptions for 96 yards. Offensive coordinator Mike Fanger consistently kept the Northern Arizona defense off track. The Lumberjacks were never able to settle in, as PSU used a wide variety of running and passing schemes that eventually allowed the Viks to total up 410 yards on offense.
“We had great distribution tonight. It all came together. I was able to key in with Shawn early on and then that allowed us as an offense to just open everything up. We were all on the same page and so were all able to just relax and play our game,” Smith said.
Fanger echoed this: “Teams are starting to stack the line against us, as they now know what Rubin can do. So, lately, we’ve been able to throw a lot of different things onto the playing field. And Sawyer’s found his comfort zone. So, now, we can use play-action and the deep routes – things that, maybe, earlier in the year, just weren’t working for us like they are now.”
As well and as cohesively as the Vikings’ offense played against Northern Arizona, PSU’s defense may have even been better.
Lumberjacks’ quarterback Brian Wriston, who started over first-stringer Jason Murrietta, faced pressure throughout the game. Constantly throwing off of his back foot and having to rush passes, Wriston threw three costly interceptions and was only 15-36 for 134 yards on the night.
The Vikings’ defense also recovered two fumbles and limited Northern Arizona to only 2-11 on third-down conversions. And perhaps most impressive was the fact that PSU had 24 different players on defense who either contributed a tackle or an assist.
“The defense just came to play tonight,” Friesen said. “Coach Lupfer had been rubbing it in our faces all week, that we were ranked near the bottom in the Big Sky in most of the defensive categories. So we just stepped it up. Everybody came hard, everybody contributed. I just can’t say enough about how proud I am of everyone.”
The Vikings are now running at full steam as they head into Missoula this Saturday.
Smith looks confident in the pocket. Both his short and long passes now have zip on them. As a result, his passing efficiency and yards per completion average have skyrocketed. Moreover, he and Bodiford have turned into one of the Big Sky’s most dangerous passing tandems. Rubin is a near given to provide PSU with at least 125 yards a game. And the Viks’ defense is beginning to give the ’04 unit a good run for its money.
This all bodes well for the Vikings as the climax of their season quickly approaches.
“As big as this game was for us,” coach Walsh said, “next week, against Montana, is going to be even bigger. We’ve still got the goals that we set before this year started in sight and we’ve got to do everything that we can to reach them. Our season is in our hands.”