Vikings falter, fall to 0-6
Portland State's bid to win a football game for the first time this season got cut off at the pass.
The difference in passing games between the Vikings and Northern Arizona was striking Saturday at Providence Park.
NAU struck for 353 yards and four touchdowns passing, while PSU managed just 152 yards and no TDs in the air.
The Lumberjacks won, pulling away in the second half by taking advantage of two third-quarter interceptions after the Vikings had grinded to within 14-13.
"I told (the players) at halftime, 'Whoever wins the turnovers wins the second half.' I was right," Portland State coach Bruce Barnum said.
Cookus, a standout QB, finished 23 of 39, while PSU senior Josh Kraght was 20 of 26.
The Lumberjacks improved to 3-0 in the Big Sky and 4-2 overall. They've won four in a row
PSU is 0-6, 0-3 in league. The Vikings are 0-6 for the first time since 1952, when they finished 0-9. They've lost eight games in a row dating to last season.
Cookus, the FCS national player of the week on offense last week for his performance in a win against Illinois State, is "the best (quarterback) in this conference," Barnum said.
And he was playing Saturday without a couple of
"It took us awhile — Portland State's defense did a good job of mixing things up," NAU coach Jerome Souers said.
The Vikings were in this game through three quarters and seemed to have some momentum going their way midway through the third quarter.
And they started well. Their first three offensive plays were runs off the left side of their line. On the third-and-4 snap, NAU's front line was in position to force a punt, but PSU running back Za'Quan Summers avoided his would-be tacklers and broke into the clear for a 65-yard touchdown run and 7-0 lead.
The Vikings' defense was lively early, as NAU predictably tested their secondary with throws downfield. A big hit by help defender/free safety Braxton Winterton jarred a would-be TD catch loose from wideout, but he was ejected for targeting, and NAU scored two plays later on an eight-yard slant pattern, Cookus to Justice Stokes, pulling the 'Jacks even at 7-7.
"Losing a safety is like losing a quarterback — they run (the defense)," Barnum said.
Some hard hits later in the first quarter kept NAU out of the end zone — until Cookus calmly dropped back and found tight end Jonathan Baldwin in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 3 for a 14-7 lead.
PSU showed a new wrinkle, trying some option runs with Kraght at the controls. But mostly it was old-fashioned, off-tackle type plays that enabled the Viks to pile up 177 yards on the ground by halftime, at 6.8 yards per carry, and stay within 14-7.
"They had four senior offensive linemen that have had a lot of reps," Souers said. "They're big and physical kids. There were times when we were getting mauled out there."
Portland State's defensive pressure and pass coverage kept Cookus mostly in check, too. At the half, the 6-4, 200-pound sophomore was 15 of 25 passing for 131 yards, livable numbers for the defense.
Early in the third quarter, PSU freshman kicker Kennedy, from Wilson High, hit a 29-yard field goal — the first three-pointer of the season for the Vikings. That cut the deficit to 14-10.
A defensive stop and poor NAU punt gave the Viks the ball back quickly at the Lumberjacks' 35. Kennedy gave the Vikings three more points, making a 28-yard field goal.
Northern Arizona then missed a kick from 34 yards.
But the Viks immediately gave up seven points, as NAU defensive back Maurice Davison picked off a Kraght sideline pass and easily darted 25 yards to the end zone for a touchdown and 21-13 'Jacks lead.
It was arguably the key play of the game.
"The cornerback made a good break on the ball," Barnum said.
Kraght, under some rush, was intercepted over the middle on the next PSU series, with NAU taking over at its 48.
Cookus immediately connected on a 42-yard pass, and the Lumberjacks scored on a 10-yard draw play run by Cory Young. The PAT pushed the visitors' lead to 28-13.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Cookus found Elijah Marks open in the end zone for 22 yards, and NAU increased its lead to 35-13.
Cookus had little trouble moving the 'Jacks downfield with his arm again, and NAU added to its lead with an 18-yard TD pass to Matthew Kempton at the 10:57 mark.
Portland State got a final score with 1:39 remaining on Chase Morrison's 2-yard blast.
Portland State's next game is Saturday at Idaho State, with kickoff at 1:30 p.m. PT. PSU beat the Bengals 45-20 last year — one of the Vikings' highlights in a 3-8 season.
"I've got a good group," Barnum said, adding that he believes the Vikings will continue to battle. "They're playing hard and not getting the results (over) 60 minutes.
"We're going to act like we're 6-0. There's winners in that locker room. That game (against Northern Arizona) doesn't definie who they are."
NAU 14 0 14 14 — 42
PSU 7 0 6 7 — 20
PSU — Za'Quan Summers 65 run (Graycen Kennedy kick), 13:01
NAU — Justis Stokes 8 pass from Case Cookus (Griffin Roehler kick), 10:46
NAU — Jonathan Baldwin 3 pass from Cookus (Roehler kick), 5:09
PSU — Kennedy 29 FG, 10:04
PSU — Kennedy 28 FG, 7:34
NAU — Maurice Davison 25 interception return (Roehler kick), 5:23
NAU — Cory Young 10 run (Roehler kick), 4:08
NAU — Elijah Marks 22 pass from Cookus (Roehler kick), 14:54
NAU — Matthew Kempton 18 pass from Cookus (Roehler kick), 10:57
PSU — Chase Morrison 2 run (Kennedy kick), 1:39
Att. — 4,430