Weathering the storm

In PGE Park on Saturday, the weather told the story of this year’s Portland State football season.

In PGE Park on Saturday, the weather told the story of this year’s Portland State football season.

It was a nasty day—cold, wet and dark—and it would end with the Vikings dropping their last home game of the season to the Montana State Bobcats, 28-10.

Neither the weather nor the score could have been a starker contrast to the first home game of the season. On that warm, sunny day in early September, the Viks stomped Southern Oregon, 34-10, in their best offensive showing of the season.

On that September day, the season held so much promise. Players celebrated the win with smiles and laughs, mulling around the field long after the game in order to let the victory linger on.

On Saturday, there seemed to be only a sense of anger at the outcome of the season. There were no happy faces or celebratory dances to be seen.

The Viks, in their third year under head coach Jerry Glanville, have had only one conference win, and that came four weeks ago against Northern Colorado. Outside conference play, they have not done any better, only beating the aforementioned Southern Oregon squad.

“I think people are more angry today than they have been in the past because it was the seniors’ last home game. Offensively, we didn’t show up to play,” said senior fullback Bobby McClintock.

Given all this, it would be easy to dismiss this game as just another loss. In some respects, that would be fair.
Offensively, the Viks have still not recovered their identity. Since the knee-injury to senior quarterback Drew Hubel at Northern Colorado, the offense has struggled to be effective, and Saturday was no exception.

Hubel started the game shaky, going only one of four for 15 yards. On the Vikings’ third possession, he suffered an injury to his shoulder when he dove trying to recover a fumble from a bad snap. As a result, sophomore backup quarterback Connor Kavanaugh stepped in for the remainder of the game.

Kavanaugh was not able to improve much on Hubel’s performance. He completed 53 percent of his 17 passes for a lowly 67 yards, bringing the total yardage for the passing attack up to 82 yards, the lowest total for any game this season.

The Montana offense, however, had a stellar first half—thanks largely to the inability of the Portland State defense to get anything going.

Normally, the Bobcats are not an offensive-minded team. They don’t have a primary quarterback, and instead, split time between two starters. And, their offensive lineup does not include any of the Big Sky Conference’s top five offensive players in any category.

Despite all this, the Bobcats jumped out to an early 28-0 lead with an attack that was almost equal parts passing and rushing—a testament to the overall malaise of the Viking defense.

In the second half, though, the Viking defense became determined to rewrite the story. Everything seemed to fall in place. The much-maligned secondary allowed only 20 additional yards through the air. The run defense, which at times has shined this season, allowed only 42 yards.

They also seemed hell-bent on making something happen. After a fumble by Kavanaugh in the second quarter, senior linebacker Ryan Pedersen forced a fumble on the very next play. Senior nose tackle Jermaine Jacobs recovered the ball, giving the offense another chance.

“[Losing is] tough, especially when your defense is playing well, and the offense can’t take advantage of that,” Kavanaugh said.

The offense may have sputtered through the air, but they did make progress in their running game. Kavanaugh finished as the team’s leading rusher for the fourth week in a row with 67 yards. McClintock and freshman fullback Evans Okotcha added 46 and 39 yards, respectively.

A short run by junior third-string quarterback Justin Engstrom gave the Vikings 158 yards on the ground, their second highest total for the season. In addition, the one touchdown that the Vikings scored came on a 31-yard run by Okotcha. The Bobcats had allowed only one rushing touchdown all season.

The feat is especially impressive considering that the Bobcats have the top-ranked running defense in the conference entering the game, allowing only 77.4 rushing yards per game.

For every step forward though, the offense took two steps back. While the defense held strong three times when the Bobcats attempted to convert on fourth down, the Portland State offense converted only two of their 14 third down attempts.

After making zero trips into the red zone last week against Eastern Washington, the Vikings were only able to make the trip across the field twice and only once did they come away with points.

“The last two games, we haven’t functioned well offensively. We’re making it hard,” Glanville said. “We’re not making plays. That may have been our first long run for a touchdown since I’ve been here.”

The Vikings’ last chance to get another win on their 2-8 season comes next week against Idaho State in Pocatello. Another conference opponent, the Bengals, are winless this season with a 0-10 record. Kickoff is set for 2:35 p.m.