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Enough big plays propel PSU to 40-point win

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland State receiver Darnell Adams from Newberg celebrates a teammate's touchdown during the Vikings' 57-17 season-opening win over Eastern Oregon at Jeld-Wen Field on Thursday.Portland State had the game won by the end of the first half.

But, while the scoreboard did not come close to indicating it, Eastern Oregon proved to be a more formidable opponent than many would have predicted Thursday night at Jeld-Wen Field.

The Vikings' 57-17 victory was more the result of an FCS school being far superior physically to an NAIA school than Portland State looking like a well-oiled machine.

With an announced crowd of 5,174 watching, the Vikings did have some moments of excellence, including an 80-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker from sophomore quarterback Kieran McDonagh to Roston Tatum and a defense that forced seven turnovers.

A 36-0 halftime lead was enough to send the majority of PSU’s starters to the bench in the second half.

However, Portland State showed a lot of first-game rust. The offense gained 672 yards but looked shaky at times, like when running back Shaquille Richards fumbled on the Viks' first play from scrimmage. While the Vikings' defense held the Mountaineers to 17 points and forced seven turnovers, PSU gave up 438 yards of offense.

The Vikings also forfeited 139 yards on 16 penalties.

“It’s always good to win by 40 and feel like you have a lot to improve on,” Vikings coach Nigel Burton said. “We’ll feel good about it tonight and move on tomorrow.”

The first three series of the game featured three turnovers.

First, Vikings linebacker Corry Crowder picked off a pass by Mountaineers quarterback Zach Bartlow. On the Vikings' first offensive play of the season, Richards fumbled. Then, PSU cornerback Aaron Sibley picked off a pass and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown, making the score 7-0 with 7:25 remaining in the first quarter.

With 59 seconds remaining in that quarter, Vikings running back DJ Adams took an inside tackle handoff 14 yards for a touchdown. After Nick Fernandez converted the PAT, Portland State led 14-0.

Portland State went up 22-0 with 11:25 remaining in the second quarter. McDonagh found Kasey Closs, who made a 17-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown catch.

“It was play-action, and I hit him over the top of the safety,” McDonagh said. “I threw it off my back foot, and luckily he made a great catch.”

Fernandez then converted a two-point conversion on a trick play.

Eastern Oregon missed a chance to get on the scoreboard with 4:59 left in the half, when Marc David pushed a 28-yard field-goal attempt wide right.

On the next play, Portland State ran a flea-flicker and McDonagh launched a bomb down the field that hit a wide-open Tatum in stride. Tatum was able to cruise in for the 80-yard touchdown.

“That’s just (offensive coordinator Bruce) Barnum being Barnum,” McDonagh said.

After the PAT, the Vikings led 29-0.

Adams scored his second TD on a 13-yard run up the gut 2:51 before halftime.

The Mountaineers missed another chance to get on the scoreboard just before the half ended. Eastern Oregon drove to the Vikings' six-yard line. On fourth down, though, Bartlow failed to hit an open receiver in the back of the end zone.

Colin Ramirez and Paris Penn stepped behind center in place of McDonagh in the second half. McDonagh finished 7 of 11 passing for 170 yards and two TDs.

The Mountaineers finally got on the scoreboard, as David split the uprights with a 32-yard field goal that made the score 36-3.

As the fourth quarter began, the Mountaineers moved to the 1. On third down, Portland State was called for a face-mask penalty that gave Eastern Oregon a new set of downs. Backup quarterback TJ Esekielu then ran the ball into the end zone around the left side. The PAT made the score 36-10.

The Vikings answered on their next possession, with Adams scoring on a 1-yard run up the middle.

Adams wound up with 107 yards and three TDs on 17 carries.

“Things were moving along,” Adams said. “Our offensive line — as always — was getting guys out of the way, and they just called my number a couple of times.”

Esekielu made the score more respectable when he took an 11-yard keeper up the middle for a touchdown.

With 5:47 left, PSU's Justin Lilly took a handoff and went seven yards for a score.

Portland State tacked on one last touchdown with 3:05 to go. Nate Tago scored on a 24-yard run.

Things will get much more challenging for the Vikings next week, as they travel to play California in Berkeley on Saturday.

“We’re excited, ready to go,” Adams said. “It’s a faceless opponent. We’re excited to get on the road. That will be big for us. But we’re ready to go.”