The San Jose State Spartans scored nine touchdowns and forced six turnovers in a 66-35 rout of the #16 (FCS) Portland State Vikings on Saturday, in the first game at the newly named CEFCU Stadium.
Kenny Potter completed 14 of 20 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns and ran for two more touchdowns. Tre Hartley had four receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown. Substituting for Potter at the start of the fourth quarter, redshirt freshman Josh Love led two touchdown drives in his collegiate debut at quarterback. For his first 100-yard rushing game since 2013 with Washington, Deontae Cooper rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Redshirt freshman Zamore Zigler rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore Malik Roberson had 99 yards, including an 87-yard touchdown run.
“I can’t give the big six in the front enough credit,” remarked Cooper about the offensive line play that blocked for 461 rushing yards,
On defense, Andre Chachere grabbed two interceptions, including one in the end zone and returned for 63 yards, and senior cornerback Dominic Barnes made his first career interception. Frank Ginda had seven tackles and a fumble recovery. Chandler Hawkins had three tackles and a fumble recovery.
For Portland State, Alex Kuresa completed 10 of 22 passes for 135 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. Paris Penn rushed for 137 yards and one touchdown. Nate Tago, no relation to Spartan linebacker Christian Tago, led the Vikings in receiving with 52 yards and rushed for 29 yards as well. (Christian Tago sat out this game due to injury.)
The game had a slow start, with a 14-14 tie mid-second quarter. Because Cooper was dropped for a loss of six yards on the first play from scrimmage, San Jose State had to convert a third-and-13 in the first drive. That drive ended with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Billy Freeman, a senior tight end who turned 23 on Saturday.
San Jose State forced a three-and-out on Portland State’s first drive, but Portland State stopped San Jose State at the Portland State 30. Rather than attempt a long field goal, San Jose State brought out the punting unit, who pinned Portland State at its own 4-yard line. With Kuresa passing from his own end zone, true freshman safety Ethan Aguayo hurried Kuresa for an incomplete pass that nearly was a safety. What could have been another three-and-out became a scoring drive, after a Maurice McKnight unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on third down handed Portland State a free first down on the 22.
“Those are penalties I can certainly do without, because our defense had stopped them,” remarked San Jose State head coach Ron Caragher postgame.
Following the penalty, Portland State ran a trick play in which Kuresa pitched the ball to wide receiver Josh Kraght and moved to wideout position. Kraght then passed the ball back to Kuresa, who ran up the sideline 78 yards for a tying touchdown, after Eugene Taylor mistimed his jump to defend the pass.
In response to that trick play, San Jose State put together a 13-play, 81-yard drive in seven and a half minutes, aided by a defensive holding penalty that put San Jose State inside the Portland State 10. Potter scrambled for an eight-yard touchdown to put San Jose State back up 14-7 to begin the second quarter.
However, another trick play fooled the Spartans. On fourth-and-2 from its own 47, Portland State faked a punt. Tago took the snap and passed the ball to a wide open tight end, Maximo Espitia, who ran 43 yards before Dakari Monroe saved a touchdown and brought him down at the San Jose State 10.
“When you’re on defense and your opponent punts, you can send in your punt return team,” explained Caragher. “It’s easier to pull a fake off a punt return, because that team set up to either block or return it, or you keep your defense on and you call a punt safe, and you take out your free safety.”
Caragher also explained that on the formation, one of his special teamers lost control of Espitia, instead of “jamming him at the line of scrimmage.”
On third-and-goal after the fake punt, McKnight tipped a Kuresa pass, and the ball landed in the hands of Chachere, who ran 63 yards up the sideline before Kuresa pushed him out of bounds. San Jose State could only produce a three-and-out, after Potter was sacked on third down.
“Once I got it, I was just thinking, just hold on to it and don’t let go,” said Chachere about that interception.
Portland State responded with a six-play, 80-yard drive that included five rushing plays by Tago and Penn, again revealing flaws in the Spartans’ run defense that have challenged the team for Caragher’s entire tenure. Penn tied the game on a 36-yard rushing touchdown.
Both teams then exchanged three-and-outs; an illegal motion penalty against Freeman wiped out a 33-yard third down pass to him. After a Portland State punt was downed at the Portland State 38, San Jose State went up 21-14 with a six-play, all-rushing drive that included four carries by Zigler and ended with a Potter quarterback sneak for a one-yard touchdown.
The defense again forced a three-and-out, which included two dropped passes and a strip-sack by Nick Oreglia that Kuresa recovered. San Jose State took back possession at its own 45 with 42 seconds left, and Potter made six passing and rushing plays, including a nine-yarder to Hartley at the corner of the end zone to put San Jose State up 28-14 with two seconds left.
After stopping Portland State in six plays to open the second half, San Jose State started on offense six yards shy of midfield. That favorable field position resulted from a kick catching interference flag against Portland State running back Mitchell Thompson, for decking Tim Crawley on the punt return. Potter scrambled to convert a third-and-8 from the 46, hit Hartley with a 41-yard pass to the 1, and handed off to Zigler for a touchdown and 35-14 lead. After another Portland State three-and-out, San Jose State needed just a 19-yard Cooper run and 46-yard pass to Justin Holmes to go up 42-14.
Even down 28, Portland State did not go away quietly. The team needed just four plays to cut the deficit to 21, in a drive ending with a Kuresa 29-yarder to Tago and 22-yard touchdown pass to Penn. San Jose State stalled at the Portland State 34 on the next drive, but two plays after the punt, Chachere got his second interception of the game near midfield. Within two plays, Cooper rushed 26 yards for his first touchdown as a Spartan, and San Jose State took a 49-21 lead.
San Jose State then took a 52-21 lead late in the third quarter after another turnover. Trevon Bierria hit Penn hard and forced a fumble, and Ginda scooped the ball and returned the fumble to the Portland State 10. The Spartans settled for a 22-yard Bryce Crawford field goal after Brandon Monroe could not handle a four-yard touchdown pass.
Entering the fourth quarter, Portland State drove all the way to the San Jose State 10 on seven rushing plays, but Taylor recovered a bad snap by Cam Keizur. Love came in for Potter at quarterback, and on his first college career play from scrimmage, he handed it off to Roberson, who broke free for an 87-yard touchdown run to put San Jose State up 59-21.
Following an interception by Barnes, San Jose State went three-and-out. Portland State receiver Trent Riley blocked a punt by Michael Carrizosa, defensive back Artuz Manning returned the blocked punt to the San Jose State 3, and Thompson quickly got a three-yard touchdown to pull Portland State within 59-28. The blocked punt aside, Carrizosa averaged 38.4 yards per punt in five tries, with two going inside the 20. San Jose State went three-and-out again, and the second-team defense came in gave up a six-play, 65-yard touchdown drive that included a 48-yard Kuresa pass to Chris Seisay and cut the deficit to 59-35.
On the next drive, Love bobbled a snap on first down, but tight end LeVander Brown came in to recover the ball. Two plays later, Zigler ran away 74 yards for a touchdown that put San Jose State up 66-35. On the ensuing kickoff, Portland State returner Josh Brown could not handle Carrizosa’s pop-up kick, and Hawkins recovered the fumble with 4:10 left and allowed San Jose State to run the clock out even further.
“We did a good job rushing the football,” said Caragher, who later added about his linemen: “Our guys upfront responded over the last week.”
“We got in a rhythm, whether we were running the football, whether we were doing our play action passing game, [or] our screen game,” later said Caragher. “…We moved the chains, and we sustained longer drives.”
“It was nice to see some young guys really step up,” remarked Caragher about freshmen and sophomores who participated.
Five players left the game due to injuries: linebacker William Ossai, right tackle Nate Velichko, safety Chandler Hawkins, linebacker Nick Oreglia, and running back Brandon Monroe. Of these players, Velichko and Oreglia were starters. Monroe was carted off the field. Although this game was not televised, the many injury timeouts for both teams caused this game to last nearly four hours, as if there were the extended national TV timeouts standard for CBS Sports Network or ESPN.
All seven former walk-ons who won surprise scholarships after the Aug. 20 scrimmage participated in Saturday’s game:
Mark Amann, senior linebacker: three tackles.
Alex Manigo, senior linebacker: one tackle.
LeVander Brown, senior tight end: one 7-yard kickoff return.
Chandler Hawkins, sophomore safety: three tackles, one fumble recovery.
Tre Hartley, sophomore wide receiver: Led team in receptions with 93 yards and a TD on four catches.
Josh Love, redshirt freshman quarterback: Played the entire fourth quarter in relief of Kenny Potter; one incomplete pass and one rush for 1 yard. This is Love’s first game playing at the quarterback position; he has played at holder on placekicking attempts in both games this season.
Epie Sona, senior linebacker: one tackle.
This is the first game where San Jose State scored over 60 points in a game since the 62-52 upset of #16 Fresno State on Nov. 29, 2013. It is also the first game with over 100 combined points since that same Fresno State game.
With his two interceptions, Chachere also became the first San Jose State player to make multiple interceptions in a game since Bene Benwikere picked off three passes in the 52-43 win over Louisiana Tech on Nov. 24, 2012.
Cooper and Zigler became the first duo of 100+ yard rushers in one game since Lamar Ferguson (196 yards, 1 TD) and Jarmar Julien (126 yards, 4 TDs) in the 63-27 win over Tulsa on Oct. 27, 2001. Roberson had 99 rushing yards on Saturday, one short of making this the first game with three 100+ yard rushers since the 2013 Fresno State game.