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Vikings vow they'll be back

Time:2016-11-19 19:21Shoes websites Click:

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Vikings vow they'll be back

Created on Saturday, 19 November 2016 | Written by Kerry Eggers |

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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS

A perusal of the Big Sky football schedule in August would have indicated a regular-season finale at Providence Park — Eastern Washington against Portland State — might have championship implications.

The Eagles held up their end of the bargain, rolling up a 9-1 record and a No. 3 ranking heading into Friday’s Root Sports Northwest-televised game.

The Vikings, meanwhile, have enjoyed their season on a level somewhere between a punch in the kisser and a root canal.

Last year’s Cinderella team of the FCS ranks took its lumps, the victim of injuries and close losses and a few hard knocks as well.

That was the story again Friday night as Bruce Barnum’s feisty Vikings nearly relocated those glass slippers before falling 35-28.

The Eagles claimed a share of the Big Sky title by finishing 8-0 in conference play, but they were pushed to the limit.

“We gave the No. 3 team in the country everything they can handle,” said Portland State senior quarterback Alex Kuresa, who went out like a champion in defeat.

Eastern Washington arrived in the City of Roses on an eight-game win streak, its only loss at four-time defending national FCS champion North Dakota State. One of the victories was over Pac-12 champion hopeful Washington State.

The Eagles came in leading the nation in passing offense (417.1 per game), second in total offense (551.2) and third in scoring (45.1-point average). QB Gage Gubrud — a sophomore from McMinnville — entered leading the nation in passing yardage and total offense.

Portland State’s maligned defense — which was ranked 116th among 122 FCS teams in total defense (481.9), 117th in scoring defense (39.4) and 120th in rush defense (260.2) — “played its best game of the year,” Barnum said.

The Vikings won the battle in first downs (26-22), total offense (471-442) and time of possession (34:45 to 25:15), but lost on the scoreboard.

“It’s a game of inches, or yards, and we’re not there right now,” Barnum said.

Gubrub completed passes of 38, 46 and 84 yards to set up or score three touchdowns.

“They’ve got some cats over there, and they made big plays,” Barnum said. “That’s why they have one loss this year. We had a shot in the fourth quarter, and that’s where I wanted to be.”

Barnum wanted to be on the winning side, of course. His players did, too — desperately.

“I like everything I saw,” the second-year PSU coach said. “The effort was there. They represented well.”

The Vikings had a rash of injuries through the season that crippled their chances to win.

“Seemed like we were snakebit,” Barnum said. “I’ve been through a lot of football seasons, and I’ve never seen what happened this year happen. So many things that happened to us, they just don’t happen.”

Such as losing offensive tackle Kyle Smith and linebacker AJ Schlatter to tragic deaths prior to the season.

“I lost my two best players,” Barnum said. “Kyle was an NFL guy, and AJ was probably our best linebacker.”

Kuresa was right there in the “best player” category Friday night, too, in his final appearance as a Viking. The 6-foot, 190-pounder completed 22 of 33 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown and ran nine times for 116 yards — not counting 23 yards lost on four sacks. He competed his tail off right down a 12-yard gain that fell three yards short at the Eagles 19 on a fourth-and-15 inside the final two minutes.

“Alex ended the season well,” Barnum said. “He played three or four quality games down the stretch. He made only one mistake tonight — an interception that didn’t cost us. I was proud of him.”

A year ago, in Barnum’s first season as head coach, the Vikings flipped a 3-8 record during the final year of the Nigel Burton era to a 9-3 mark — their best-ever record at FCS level, with the three losses by total of 17 points. Barnum was rewarded with FCS Coach of the Year honors.

This year, the Vikings flipped back to 3-8. They got drilled by FBS opponents Washington and San Jose State and lost four Big Sky games by a touchdown or less.

The assumption by some will be that the Vikings were a one-hit wonder in 2015, that now they’ll slide back to oblivion. Those involved in the program argue that’s not the case.

“You look at this season and last season, we were very similar teams in very similar games, with very similar scores,” Kuresa said. “Last year, we found ourselves on the other end of these close games. We found a way to win five games by less than a touchdown. This year, we lost games we were in position to win. But it’s not like we dropped off.

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