Mental grit key to football fortunes; PSU starts strong in volleyball, soccer

On the front of Portland State’s football helmet is a single word. The word has become the Vikings’ motto. It embodies everything PSU wants out of itself.

And the Vikings have failed to live up to that word this season.

The word is finish.

“Coach (Nigel Burton) always emphasizes it. We’ve got to finish games,” quarterback Kieran McDonagh says. “We’ve got to finish our opponents off.”

A week ago, for the second time this season, Portland State lost by one touchdown or less.

The first time it happened may have been understandable — PSU shocked most people just by taking California of the Pac-12 down to the wire in a 37-30 loss.

The Vikings’ 38-34 loss to Cal Poly in their conference opener at Jeld-Wen Field last week was less excusable.

Portland State dominated the first half, taking a 21-7 lead before numerous mistakes (roughing the center on a field goal, illegal substitution after a timeout) and the inability to sustain their early play cost them the game.

That leaves the Vikings in a determined mood going into Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. Big Sky game at Montana.

“The guys are hungry,” McDonagh says. “We’re going to get after it.”

The Grizzlies also are coming off a loss. They fell 34-16 at Northern Arizona in their conference opener. Montana (3-1) owns victories over Appalachian State 30-6, at North Dakota 55-17 and versus OPSU 47-14. The Grizzlies feature former Sheldon High standout Jordan Johnson at quarterback and lead the conference in fewest points allowed per game (17.8).

PSU leads the league in scoring (41.0) and total offense (587 yards per game to Montana’s 461. The Griz are allowing 318.5 yards per game but will have to stop a PSU team that is first in the league in rushing yards per game (299.4).

It all might come down to another fourth-quarter finish.

“We’ve got to be more mentally prepared,” McDonagh says. “Some guys, their heads go in and out of (the game) depending on what the score is, or if we have the lead or not.”

• A victory Saturday would thrust Portland State (3-2 overall) into the potential Big Sky title race and NCAA playoff talk.

“The history of the Big Sky, it’s pretty rare that you’ll find a team who won the (conference title) with no losses,” Burton says.

• Two PSU women’s teams are off to good Big Sky starts.

The volleyball and soccer squads, defending their regular-season conference title and conference co-title, went undefeated in home action last week.

The volleyball team is 4-0, trailing only 5-0 North Dakota in league. PSU will play tonight at Northern Arizona (3-1) and Saturday at Southern Utah (1-3).

Viking women’s soccer is tied for first with Weber State, both 2-0, going into games Friday at Eastern Washington (0-2) and Sunday at Montana (0-1-1).

Last week at Stott Center, the PSU volleyball team swept Eastern Washington and Montana, then capped the week with a 3-1 victory over Montana State.

It’s the fifth 4-0 Big Sky start in seven seasons under coach Michael Seemann.

The Viking attack has been balanced. Seven players had six kills or more versus Montana State. Kaeli Patton, a 5-8 senior from Honolulu, leads the team with 137 kills, and Aubrey Mitchell, a 5-10 senior from Reno, is second with 127, both in 14 matches for the Viks, who are 7-7 overall.

At Hillsboro Stadium last week, the Portland State soccer team downed Northern Colorado 3-1 and North Dakota 1-0.

Coach Laura Schott has the Big Sky’s leading scorer in junior Eryn Brown, a midfielder-forward from Camas High. She has six goals and 5 assists (17 points) in 10 games (PSU is 5-4-1 overall). Second on the Vikings in scoring is sophomore midfielder-forward Cori Bianchini from Glencoe High with two goals and four assists (8 points).

First-year starting goalie Caitlin Plese of Enumclaw, Wash., has allowed 10 goals in nine games, going 5-3-1.

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