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Big Sky notes: Portland State has given Eagles fits in recent seasons

Portland State quarterback Kieran McDonagh gives the Vikings a dual threat that will challenge EWU in its final regular-season home game on Saturday. (Ben Margot / Associated Press)
Portland State quarterback Kieran McDonagh gives the Vikings a dual threat that will challenge EWU in its final regular-season home game on Saturday. (Ben Margot / Associated Press)
As Portland State football coach Nigel Burton sees it, the difference between his 6-5 team and Big Sky Conference champion Eastern Washington is obvious. “We’ve just got to be more consistent,” said Burton, in his fourth year with the Vikings. “We’ve played some unbelievably good football at times, and other games where we haven’t been able to to figure out what’s going on.” The Vikings were a little of both in their last outing, a 43-42 home loss last weekend to Sacramento State that ended any flickering FCS playoff hopes. PSU gave up 628 yards, the last 4 on the Hornets’ winning touchdown pass with 30 seconds left. Meanwhile, the PSU offense ground out 713 total yards, and showed its versatility in the process. A run-first team, the Vikings still got 331 yards on the ground, including 249 from senior running back D.J. Adams. “He’s going to be tough to replace,” Burton said of Adams, who has run for 1,456 yards and 18 scores, and averages 6.4 yards per rush. Said Eastern defensive line coach Ryan Sawyer: “Adams is very dynamic, and has all the tools to hurt you, so we have to play well up front and not let him get going.” PSU quarterback Kieran McDonagh has completed 108 of 199 passes with 13 touchdowns; he’s also an effective runner, giving the Vikings the same kind of dual threat that gave the Eagles fits in early-season losses to Toledo and Sam Houston State. “They’re a tremendously good offensive team, and in the last two years they’ve been incredibly tough to stop,” Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said. Last year in Portland, the Eagles prevailed 41-34 thanks mainly to a big pass-catch day from Kyle Padron and Brandon Kaufman. In 2011, PSU’s offense riddled the Eagles for 338 yards in a 43-26 win that ended any chance of a return to the playoffs for the defending FCS champion Eagles.
Plenty at stake
If the Eagles take care care of business against Portland State, they’ll do more than clinch the program’s first outright Big Sky title since 1997. Win and they’ll likely be seeded second or third in the 24-team FCS playoffs. That would mean a first-round bye and at least two home playoff games, with a possible matchup with No. 2 Eastern Illinois in the semifinals. If Eastern loses, it will mean a sleepless night going into the bracket announcement at 8 a.m. PST on Sunday. Depending on the outcome of other games, the Eagles may or may not be one of the eight seeded teams, and certainly wouldn’t host any games beyond the round of 16 on Dec. 7. Regardless, Baldwin said, “It’s nice when you know you’re going to play more football, so it doesn’t feel like your last game.”
Baldwin, Lamb honored
Baldwin and Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb are finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, which is presented annually by The Sports Network. The two Big Sky Conference coaches were among 20 coaches named to the ballot on Tuesday. Baldwin, in his sixth season, has led Eastern Washington to a 7-0 conference record and 9-2 overall. Lamb is in his sixth season at Southern Utah, which joined the Big Sky in 2012. Southern Utah was selected ninth by the media and coaches in the preseason polls. The Thunderbirds (8-3) have tied the school record for victories in a season, and figure to earn the program’s first playoff appearance with a win on Saturday at home over No. 10 Northern Arizona.
Around the conference
Northern Arizona’s defense recorded its seventh touchdown of the season last Saturday when defensive back Randy Hale Jr. returned an interception 51 yards for a score in a 24-7 win over Northern Colorado. Northern Arizona has returned five interceptions for touchdowns and has two fumble-return TDs. .. Montana State QB DeNarius McGhee will play what could be the final game of his great career with the Bobcats on Saturday against arch-rival Montana. McGhee enters with 11,043 career passing yards, which ranks sixth in league history. He is 37 away from tying Montana’s Dave Dickenson for fifth in league history. … Weber State’s Tony Epperson has set Big Sky single-season records for punts (93) and punting yards (3,959). The FCS record for punts in a season is 98 by Barry Hickinbotham in 1987 for Louisiana Tech. … North Dakota’s Greg Hardin finished the season with 2,017 all-purpose yards, which ranks 12th in league history.
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