The Portland State Football team has made leaps and bounds after a dull 6-5 record last year and is a serious postseason threat in the Big Sky.
In year two of the Sawyer Smith experiment, the gun-slinging right-hander will have even more pressure to produce in the offense. While last year Smith’s mistakes were foreshadowed by the skill of his teammate and star Joe Rubin, this year is different. Smith will be expected to take good care of the ball, get it to his receivers and move the chains on third down.
The offensive line that has always been PSU’s staple of consistency has more depth and overall size than they’ve had in any other year. With studs like first team All-Big Sky guard Brennan Carvalho, second team All-Big Sky guard Peter St. John, and honorable mention linemen Antonio Narcisse and Derek Duff, the bruising O-line will be paving the way for the Viking runners, whomever they may be.
Promising tailback transfer Mu’Ammar Ali went down with a shoulder injury in practice and will be out for a month. This leaves a large gap to be filled at the position, but with all the other weapons on offense that PSU has, the running game may be taking a back seat this year.
Junior wide-out Brendan Ferrigno leads a group of young receivers who will be in charge of catching Smith’s passes. Ferrigno is not a burner and doesn’t have a lot of size for a good possession receiver. However, what he loses in his God-given genes he makes up for in heart and brains. He willingly catches tough balls in heavy traffic and uses his shiftiness to get rid of coverage, as was evidenced in the Vikings first game and huge upset of Division I team New Mexico 17-6.
A slashing Ferrigno put PSU on the board in the third quarter for the first time with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Smith. The second half score would give the Vikings the lead which they would not relinquish.
”We really think Ferrigno has a bright future for us,” said head coach Tim Walsh. “When he scored the first touchdown and put us ahead, the entire team’s morale skyrocketed.”
Ferrigno finished the game with five catches for 78-yards and the game changing score. The now veteran Smith had a decent game going 13-30 for 173-yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Coach Walsh was happy with his quarterback’s development.
”Sawyer played extremely well, he was under pressure the entire game. He took a lot of hits and made good decisions, throwing the ball away rather than forcing it. He only threw one interception and that was at the end of the second half when we were just looking for a touchdown,” Walsh said.
The true barometer of the team’s success will be the play of the defense. With a powerful front-seven that is mixed with veteran experience and skilled youth, the Vikings should be able to hold the run in check. The surprise play of middle linebacker Andy Hayward in his first career start for PSU should be a huge relief for the team that was worried about replacing the talented Joey King from last year. With 10 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble in the Viks’ domination of the New Mexican Lobos, the former defensive end should have a productive season at his new position.
Hayward may have brought a new swagger to the Viks’ D that could help the team through the Big Sky as well as the two other Division 1 teams that the team will face this season. These teams include the University of Oregon and Cal State Bears. Both ranked 20th and 22nd respectively on Sept. 6.
The face of this team has changed. The team’s attitude and confidence are now charged with something that they haven’t had for a while. They have a veteran quarterback under center, an O-line that is huge and dominates the line of scrimmage and a defense that has a lot of speed and a high running motor that will give opposing offenses terrible headaches.
This over any other could be the Vikings’ year to break out of its mediocre rut and make a serious push for the Big Sky championships.