Late drive gives Sacramento State 43-42 win, after Vikings pass on field-goal try

As the Portland State football team walked into the locker room Saturday afternoon, there were tears, there was a helmet thrown against the wall and most of all there was a look of true defeat in the eyes of the players and coaches.

There also was a game the Vikings should never have lost. And yet they did, falling 43-42 after Sacramento State’s final drive.

Portland State is no stranger to heartbreaking defeats, but the Vikings' 2-13 home finale, played before an announced crowd of 4,553, was one of the most gut-wrenching, inexplicable loses in some time.

“I wish I had an answer (for what happened),” coach Nigel Burton said.

The Vikings (6-5, 3-4 Big Sky) almost had the game in hand with 1:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. Leading 42-37, PSU had moved the ball to the Sac State 15-yard line. Facing fourth-and-inches, the Vikings elected to try to run for the first down rather than a field goal that would have put them up by eight points.

It was the third time that PSU had gone for it on fourth down while in field-goal range after kicker Marcus Kinsella had missed from 48 and 38 yards in the first half.

The first time, before halftime, the Vikings scored a touchdown. The next time, from the 3, the Vikings turned over the ball on downs.

With the game on the line, Burton said his decision not to try a field goal was because of both his faith in running back DJ Adams and a lack of faith in Kinsella.

The Vikings got burned, though, when Adams was smothered at the line of scrimmage. Possession, Sacramento State.

“It’s unfortunate,” Adams said. “But that’s just how the puzzle pieces fell. We’d been doing well all game in short-yardage. It was just one of those plays, you just couldn’t get it.”

Said Burton: “Great deal by Sac State. They got the push they needed to stop us.”

The Hornets (5-6, 4-3) did not waste their opportunity. They drove down the field, with quarterback Garrett Safron completing pass after pass. Safron finally found Cole Hikutini on a fade route for the game-winning, 4-yard touchdown with 30 seconds remaining.

“Blown assignments,” Vikings linebacker Jacob Shoemaker said, of the Hornets' final drive. “On defense, we failed to do our job.”

Sac State tried for a two-point conversion. The Hornets failed to make it a three-point game, but that wouldn't matter, as Vikings quarterback Collin Ramirez threw an interception on PSU’s ensuing possession.

In many ways, Saturday’s game was a contest between Adams and Safron. Both were phenomenal.

Adams had the best game of his collegiate career, rushing 26 times for 249 yards and five touchdowns. The senior scored twice in the first half on runs of 9 and 1 yards. He scored twice in the third quarter on runs of 10 and 18, then ran 78 yards for a score in the fourth quarter.

“It goes back to our offensive line,” Adams said. “They were very consistent and blocking great. They were giving pressure on the outside and were making lanes. Very, very big congratulations to them today for their effort.”

Safron was directly responsible for each of Sac State’s touchdowns.

The junior QB completed 34 of 50 passes for 554 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception. It was in the second half that Safron torched the Vikings, throwing for 438 yards and delivering three of his touchdowns.

His TD passes went to Morris Norrise (10 yards) DeAndre Carter (78 yards), Austin Dotson (26 yards) and Hikutini.

“We didn’t call anything extravagant. We didn’t do what we haven’t done for nine weeks,” Burton said, of his team’s second- half defensive effort. “All of a sudden guys got uncharacteristically undisciplined in the back. They weren’t paying attention. They weren’t ready for the situation. It was unfortunate.”

Safron also punished the Vikings with his legs, running for touchdowns of 1 and 16 yards.

Sac State’s only other score came on the first drive of the game, when the Hornets got down to the PSU 2 but had to settle for Brad Cornish's 24-yard field goal.

As bad as the Vikings' kicking was, their punting also left much to be desired. A shanked punt cost Portland State a touchdown.

With 2:18 remaining in the first half, Portland State had the ball on its 13. Kyle Loomis mis-hit his punt badly and sent it only 24 yards, to the PSU 37.

The stellar field position led to a Sac State touchdown six plays later, when Safron connected with Norrise.

The Hornets tried to go for the 2-point conversion. They lined up in an offset formation and got into the end zone, but a holding penalty brought the play back. The PAT made the score 14-10 with 29 seconds left.

Portland State got the ball back at its 25. Rather than run out the clock, the Vikings dialed up a halfback pass that worked to perfection. Thomas Carter took the ball and threw it downfield to a wide-open David Jones, who made it to the Sacramento State 25.

The Vikings got to the 14 with four seconds to go. Having no confidence in the kicking game, the Viks decided to try to put the ball into the end zone. The gamble paid off when Ramirez found Victor Dean in double coverage but Dean came up with the ball.

“Vic is 6-6,” Ramirez said. “He’s a big guy. I knew that was the last play of the half and I had to make something happen. I threw it to a place where only he could get it. He came up with a big play.”

The PAT sent the teams into intermission with Portland State leading 21-10.

In the third quarter, Adams and Safron traded touchdowns.

Sac State made the score 21-17 on a 1-yard sneak by Safron.

Adams made it 28-17 with a 1-yard dive.

Sac State cut its deficit to 28-24 on a 16-yard keeper by Safron.

Adams hiked the Viking lead to 35-24 on a 18-yard run.

Sac State got within 35-31 on a 78-yard pass from Safron to Carter.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Portland State faced fourth-and-two from the Hornets' 4. The Vikings again elected not to kick, and Ramirez’s pass into the end zone went incomplete.

Adams bailed out the Vikings on their next possession. On third-and-one from the 32, Adams took a handoff, exploded through the line and was gone, 68 yards for the touchdown. The PAT made the score 42-31.

But the 11-point lead didn't hold up.

And once again, the Vikings must pick up the pieces as they prepare for their season finale on the road next Saturday against No. 3 Eastern Washington.

“You either fight like this team has done many times before, or you curl up in the fetal position and get your butt rolled up,” Burton said. “There’s no real choice. They understand what needs to be done and what should’ve been accomplished today.”

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