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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Paris Penn, a senior from Grant High, breaks through the Idaho State defense in a victory for Portland State on Saturday at Providence Park. After a September of not much to remember, the Portland State Vikings have rekindled — at least for one week — fond memories of 2015.


The Vikings hope they turned their season around last Saturday, when they beat Idaho State 45-20 the old-fashioned way, running the Bengals into the ground at Providence Park.

Last week, the Viks were a Cinderella team. They came from nowhere to make the second round of the FCS playoffs and finished 9-3.

Over the offseason, the Vikings worked on ways to get even better, notably in their passing, the facet of the game Portland State brought to prominence in the run-and-shoot glory days of former coach Mouse Davis.

But things just weren’t clicking smoothly enough in a 1-3 start (PSU had eight interceptions and only five touchdowns throwing the ball). So coach Bruce Barnum, tired of both the turnovers and the losing, had the Vikings stick to the ground against Idaho State, with spectacular results.

“For Mouse Davis, (passing all the way up) a long field was nothing. But we don’t have the personnel for that,” Barnum said. “So it was a little bit of a failed experience.”

Against Idaho State, the Vikings rushed for a school-record 531 yards, 9.2 per carry. The Viks passed for zero yards. Portland State ran 58 times and was 0 for 5 in the air, with two of the attempts simply thrown away when quarterback Alex Kuresa was under duress.

It was a three-pronged effort from running backs Nate Tago (12 carries, 199 yards, one touchdown) and Paris Penn (16 carries, 184 yards, four TDs), and Kuresa (12 carries, 92 yards, one TD).

And there were no turnovers.

The Vikings had started slowly this year, struggling to get past NCAA Division II Central Washington 43-26 in the opener, then going a predictable 0-2 against FBS San Jose State and Washington and losing a tough one at Southern Utah, 43-31, where a second-half rally gave them a chance to tie or go ahead in the final seconds.

Barnum took his team into the Idaho State game still with some major questions, including, was this group going to be able to play, and win, in the blue-collar, “Barney Ball” style he intended when he went from offensive coordinator to head coach before last season.

“There was a lot to get done, and I didn’t know who my team was,” Barnum said.

Barnum needed an answer, and the team needed a Big Sky win, badly.

“It wasn’t a panic, but there was a sense of urgency,” Barnum said.

So it was “back to our roots. Playing to our strength,” Barnum said. “I liked what I saw in our backfield and up front.”

The simplified attack was welcomed by the Vikings’ horses up front.

“The offensive line, we love that,” said guard Cam Keizur. “That’s what we want to do, be physical and run the ball.”

The Vikings’ defensive performance versus Idaho State also was encouraging. The secondary appears to be stabilizing, with former Oregon Ducks starter Chris Seisay, a recent transfer, settling in at one of the cornerback spots and providing some welcome lockdown coverage, pass breakups and sure tackling.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way for Seisay, who came to PSU to play wide receiver. But the Viks had a pressing need in the defensive backfield, and the junior quickly made the switch.

Seisay said his transition has been easy and it’s also been easy for him to fit in with the Vikings.

“I just let them know I’m coming in to help them win and I’ll be giving it my all every game,” Seisay said, “and they welcomed me in like a brother.”

Now the question is, can the Vikings do it again, or up to six more times in the remaining regular-season games, and against some of the best teams in the Big Sky?

“Our confidence level definitely went up, and we just have to keep building on that,” Seisay said. “Those three losses don’t define our season. We showed that when we want to play hard and good, we can be one of the best teams in the Big Sky.”

A high finish in the conference will take even better performances and no doubt some adjustments, as other teams will focus on stopping the Portland State running game and will try to force the Vikings to throw the football. But the Viks have some new life going into Saturday’s 5 p.m. PT game at Weber State.

“We want to focus on the next game,” Keizur said, “but if we play the way we can, we do some good things.”

sbrand[email protected]portlandtribune.com

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