Viks fall short in fourth

    University of Montana was able to hold off a fourth-quarter comeback by Portland State Saturday in the most significant Big Sky match-up this season. The largest crowd in five years at PGE Park — 13,156 fans — watched Montana win 26-20 and move into sole possession of first place in the conference.

    Down 10-23 the Viks began a fourth-quarter rally led by defense and special teams. After an excellent punt that put the Grizzlies on the two-yard line defensive end CJ Niusulu tackled running back Reggie Bradshaw in the end zone for a safety. On the ensuing kickoff, PSU Junior WR Kenneth Mackins ran it back for an 80-yard touchdown to bring the score to 20-23. Montana was held to a field goal on the next drive giving PSU the ball down six points with 4:18 remaining. After each team was unable to produce a score, PSU got one final chance with only 0:45 left in the game. Hope was soon extinguished as Montana junior cornerback Quinton Jackson intercepted the ball at the Montana 47-yard line and the Grizzlies ran out the last 0:10 of the game.

    ”Nobody likes to lose, especially a hard-fought football game,” said Viking Head Coach Tim Walsh. ” Our guys played their hearts out,”

    Facing significant losses due to injuries, the Vikings’ offense got off to a difficult start. Starting in place of injured senior QB Sawyer Smith was third-string junior QB Rob Freeman, who also started in the win over Weber State last week. Under Freeman the PSU offense seemed stagnant and PSU went scoreless as he only completed one pass for six yards and two interceptions.

    Junior QB Bryan White, a transfer student from University of Colorado, entered the game late in the second quarter. The Vikings looked like a different team after the quarterback change. The much more poised White was able to connect with senior WR Tremayne Kirkland for a 35-yard touchdown to go into halftime with the score 16-7. White arrived to Portland State just last week and only had the chance to participate in four practices.

    ”I can’t say enough about how well he played on four days’ practice,” said Walsh. “I’ve never seen a young man work so hard.”

    ”I just wanted to make sure I was sound with everything, all my reads and stuff like that,” said White.

    Turnovers and penalties proved to be a sizeable hurdle for the Vikings’ offensive production. With six total turnovers the Vikings offense had three interceptions, two lost fumbles and allowed a safety. Montana was able to score nine points on those turnovers with an interception return for touchdown in the first quarter and a safety when a bad snap rolled through the end zone in the second. PSU also held themselves back by committing five penalties for 36 yards.

    ”Turnovers seemed to be the back-breaker as far as I’m concerned,” said Walsh.

    White finished the game completing seven of his 16 passing attempts with 142 yards, one TD, and an interception. Junior WR Kenneth Mackins grabbed 3 catches for 67 yards and senior RB Kelena Ho’okano produced 47 yards on 13 carries.

    The Grizzlies’ standout senior QB, Josh Swogger, was 16-of-29 passing for 203 yards, one TD and two interceptions. Other notable players for Montana included junior WR Ryan Bagley and junior RB Reggie Bradshaw. Bagley pulled in five receptions for 68 yards that included an eight-yard TD catch in the second quarter to make the score 14-0. Bradshaw had 79 yards off 18 carries and scored a third quarter TD on a 23 yard dash making the score 23-10.

    A significant factor in the game was the lack of offensive performance. The injury of senior quarterback Sawyer Smith and running back Mu’Ammar Ali has been a significant burden to the Viking offense. Smith suffered a hip injury in the game against Cal back on Sept. 16. His backup, freshman quarterback Tygue Howland, endured a season-ending torn ACL injury in the same game. Ali has yet to play a game after a preseason injury to his right scapula. Both are expected to be back next week.

    The Vikings were scheduled to play the Division I-A Golden Bears to receive $400, 000 as payment for a likely win. Cal not only won the game in overwhelming fashion, but they succeeded in knocking two PSU quarterbacks out of action for the past two games. This game may have been the deciding factor in winning the Big Sky title and the presence of Smith and Ali was unquestionably missed.