Vikings shoot down Eagles

    Over the last few years, Eastern Washington has tormented the Portland State football team. The Eagles bulldozed the Vikings through their last three meetings, scoring at least 41 points in game.

    But in the season’s final home game Saturday, Portland State got its revenge as the Vikings shut out Eastern Washington, 34-0. And though Portland State is focused on the playoff chase, their recent history with the Eagles gave extra motivation to PSU’s players and staff.

    ”There’s no doubt, they knew that [Eastern Washington] had scored over 120 points in the last three years against us,” Coach Tim Walsh said. “And that was not going to happen again. We were not going to allow that to happen.”

    Walsh’s message got through to his guys, and after the game the emphatic celebration on the field displayed a team that had gotten a heavy weight off its back, and in doing so, they may have discovered a new star.

    Senior running back Mu’Ammar Ali rushed for a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Ali’s two TDs came on runs from one and seven yards.

    Making light of his increasingly productive performances Saturday, Ali explained, “Last week I had a little traction problem with my shoes.” After getting that sorted out Ali said, “I just made it happen tonight.”

    Coach Walsh offered more insight on the emergence of Ali. “I think we’re starting to get healthy, I think Mu’Ammar is starting to feel better, and I think the more you play, the better your vision gets,” Walsh explained.

    Portland State quarterback Sawyer Smith passed for 199 yards and a touchdown, completing 11 of 19 passes.

    Focusing primarily on the play of his defense Saturday, Walsh was especially exuberant. “Those kids played well enough to get a couple other shutouts, they deserved one tonight.”

    ”The shutout means a lot,” said elated senior linebacker Adam Hayward. “It was a game, that after last year’s performance, we knew we’d have to do something this year, and come out and prove something to everybody.”

    In making sure that message was sent, Hayward perhaps single-handedly saved the shutout.

    Late in the fourth quarter, Eastern Washington was moving into Portland State territory, and was within field-goal range when Hayward blew through the line and sacked second-string Eagles quarterback Chris Peerboom. The loss pushed Eastern Washington back out of range. Hayward finished with 2.5 sacks.

    Equally disruptive and sometimes downright ferocious was the work of senior linebacker D.J. Robinson, who registered three sacks and a game-high 10 tackles (five solo).

    Prompted after the game to comment on his stars on defense, coach Walsh found it difficult to single out anyone, rather focusing his praise on a complete team effort.

    ”I don’t know where to start. You could go over 14 or 15 guys on defense, and they do it in a lot of ways. I’m extremely happy with what we’re doing,” the coach said. “I wish I could single out one guy. I think our corners have played extremely well all year long, our linebackers, our D-Line. Our coaching staff has assembled a great group of athletes on the defensive side of the ball, and our defensive coordinator Greg Lupfer has done a tremendous job of putting together plans.”

    Also leaving a stamp on the game was senior wide receiver Tremayne Kirkland and senior place kicker Eric Azorr. Kirkland gained 120 yards (his first 100+ yard receiving game), and Azorr nailed field goals from 45 and 43 yards out, and even helped stop a potential runback with a solid hit on the Eagles’ returner.

    Next Saturday sees the Vikings travel down to Eugene to take on the Division-I Oregon Ducks. The U of O, fresh off a disappointing loss to Washington State, figures to be in desperate need of a convincing win.

    And though Oregon is the surefire favorite, Coach Walsh doesn’t plan to walk into Autzen Stadium with his tail between his legs.

    ”We’re going to go down there and play as hard and as fast as we possibly can,” Walsh said. “And if they’re all that than there’s nothing we can do about it. We have no margin for error.”