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Monday, November 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Big Sky notes: Season put Portland State to test

Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams shows off one of the team’s new white helmets.
Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams shows off one of the team’s new white helmets.

When asked Wednesday how he deals with stress, Portland State football coach Nigel Burton said he relies on an old prayer:

“Lord, give me the courage to change the things I can change, the patience to handle the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

These are stressful times for the Vikings, who are 3-8 going into Friday night’s season-ending home game against Eastern Washington. PSU has lost four games by a touchdown or less, is on its third starting quarterback and is coming off a meltdown loss last week, blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead in a 48-41 defeat at Sacramento State.

Off the field, the program is coping with PSU President Wim Wiewel’s demand last winter to become financially self-sufficient this season. The Vikings have done that with big paydays at Oregon State and Washington State, but they’ve struggled to attract fans to their games at Providence Park in downtown Portland.

The Vikings sold just 809 tickets to a game last month against Northern Arizona.

Living in the shadows of the Pac-12 programs at Oregon and Oregon State, the Vikings have found the limelight for all the wrong reasons, especially the flap between Burton and David Hersh, whose C-Level Sports firm handles marketing for the PSU athletic department.

The dispute concerned $20,000 promised the program for rights to an annual fundraising golf tournament. Through what was termed a misunderstanding, the event was canceled. Proceeds had been earmarked to pay for football players’ lodging the night before home games.

Meanwhile, the athletic department is drifting after the sudden resignation this fall of athletic director Torre Chisholm. Valerie Cleary is the interim athletic director.

As if that weren’t enough, Burton is facing criticism for his 21-35 record after four-plus seasons, including 13-26 in the Big Sky Conference. A win over Eastern might placate the critics and “put a smile on the faces of our seniors,” Burton said.

The job got tougher two weeks ago with a season-ending shoulder injury to quarterback Paris Penn. Redshirt freshman Josh Kraght got his first start last week at Sacramento State, going 22 for 40 for 265 yards.

Eastern changes look

The Eastern football players got a bye-week surprise with the all-white uniforms they’ll wear this week.

Before practice Monday evening, quarterback Vernon Adams was gushing over the new uniforms. He’d already applied a red-white-and-blue Eagles decal to his white helmet.

“That’s pretty sick,” Adams said.

Eastern coach Beau Baldwin said he and the athletic department staff had “kept a tight lip” on the all-whites for several weeks, then sprung the surprise during the bye week following the Montana game.

The players’ reaction was predictable.

“They were more excited than my 7- and 9-year-olds on Christmas morning,” Baldwin said.

The playoff picture

 If Eastern Washington and Montana State win this weekend to finish 7-1 in Big Sky Conference play, the Eagles will earn the Big Sky’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs by virtue of a 52-51 nonconference win over Montana State earlier this season.

The Division I playoff field will be announced at 8 a.m. Sunday. The playoff field will consist of 11 conference champions and 13 at-large bids. The top eight teams will earn seeds and first-round byes. The first eight games of the playoffs will be played on Nov. 29.

Weber on probation

The NCAA imposed sanctions on Weber State after it found that a math instructor had improperly helped Wildcats football players with their course work, quizzes and tests.

The NCAA put Weber State on probation for three years, reduced scholarships for the football program and imposed at least $5,000 in fines for violating ethical conduct rules. The penalties do not include a postseason ban.

The NCAA says the math instructor completed quizzes and tests for five players, and gave others hints about formulas and help with quiz and test answers.

Weber State and its athletic department became aware of the situation early last year. After an initial investigation, the Wildcats self-reported the issue to the NCAA last fall.

Notes

Eastern is third in the nation in attendance compared to the capacity of the stadium. EWU is averaging 118.79 percent of its capacity with an average of 10,216 fans at 8,600-seat Roos Field. … Idaho State senior quarterback Justin Arias enters Saturday’s game against Weber State with 3,754 passing yards. He needs 246 to become the ninth player in league history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. Arias is averaging 341.3 passing yards per game. Arias, a Walter Payton Award candidate, leads the nation in passing yards and passing touchdowns (35). He is second in the nation in points responsible for per game (20.2). … Cal Poly enters Saturday’s nonconference road game against San Diego having set one Big Sky single-season rushing record and on the verge of breaking another. Cal Poly has 41 rushing touchdowns this season, a record. The previous mark was 39 rushing TDs by Montana State in 1966.

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