Two touchdowns, two interceptions in final quarter secure victory
PORTLAND, Ore. – Two interceptions in the final two minutes and two touchdowns in the final stanza helped lift the Northern Colorado football team past Portland State in the last game of the season, 35-30.
Junior Chuks Nweke picked a pass with 1:43 remaining and returned it 14 yards, stopping a Vikings drive on the 25-yard line. On the ensuing Portland State drive, junior Brandon Owens intercepted a pass in the end zone with ten seconds remaining to secure the victory.
The victory for the Bears (3-8, 2-6 Big Sky) snapped a seven-game losing streak and gave the Bears two Big Sky wins for the first time since joining the league in 2006. It was also the first-ever win for Northern Colorado against Portland State in league action.
Saving his best game for last, senior running back Andre Harris carried the ball 22 times for a career-best 167 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It was the third time this season he rushed for over 100 yards and it betters his previous high of 154 from Adams State in the season opener.
Sophomore wide receiver Jace Davis caught four passes for 80 yards, ending his stellar season with 53 catches for 992 yards, which is the seventh-best single season total in Northern Colorado history. Sophomore tight end Doug Steele also caught two passes for 58 yards, including a tipped Hail Mary for a touchdown as time expired in the first half.
Steele's touchdown was the second tipped score for the tight end in as many weeks, as he also grabbed a deflected pass against Northern Arizona.
Defensively, senior safety Max Hewitt led the team with seven tackles and had two quarterback hurries. Nweke had six tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a pass break-up, while seniors Matt King and John Eddy and junior corner Brandon Owens each added six stops.
Junior defensive end Nick Hernon tallied four solo stops in the game and all four were behind the line of scrimmage. As a team, the Bears had 11 tackles for loss on the day.
Sophomore returner Dominic Gunn gave the Bears great field position all day, returning six kickoffs for 132 yards, which is the seventh-best return game in school history. He ends the season with 654 kickoff return yards, the second-best tally ever at Northern Colorado, narrowly missing the school record of 663 yards by Johnny Watkines from 1984.
Portland State running back Cory McCaffrey rushed for 201 yards in the first half, but the Bears defense shut him down in the second half, limiting the top running back in the league to 42 yards on 15 carries.
The Bears trailed by 18 points, 27-9 with 13 seconds remaining in the first half, but the Steele touchdown as time expired sent the team to the locker room with the momentum and they carried it through the game, outscoring Portland State 20-3 in the second half.
Portland State broke onto the scoreboard first with a 46-yard field goal at 10:46 in the first quarter. Junior Brandon Owens broke up a pass in the end zone as the Vikings went for the end zone on third down.
The Bears immediately answered, scoring on a 10-yard keeper by Orms after he hit Davis for a 43-yard strike for the 6-3 score at 8:31 mark.
Junior safety Chuks Nweke recovered a fumble on the Vikings next drive, becoming the 13th player this season to recover one for the Bears defense. Senior linebacker Matt King forced the fumble, his second force of the year.
With 2:35 remaining in the first quarter, the Vikings struck again with a 15-yard pass from Howland to Ricky Cookman for the 10-6 advantage. Then with 12:55 to play in the second quarter, Brown made another field goal, this one from 40 yards, to increase the lead to 13-6.
Dave Eden answered with a 27-yard field goal of his own to bring the Bears within four, 13-9 with 10:29 to play in the first half. The field goal for the Bears was the first for Northern Colorado since Sept. 11 at Weber State in just the third attempt in nine games.
On a fourth-and-less than a yard, McCaffrey broke free for a 48-yard touchdown rush to give the Vikings a 20-9 lead with 7:09 remaining in the first half. Just 13 seconds before halftime, the Vikings scored again, as Justin Monahan caught a seven-yard pass from Howland for the 27-9 lead.
Orms scrambled as time ran down and went deep to the end zone. A group of Vikings batted the ball from intended receiver Patrick Walker, but Doug Steele made another heads up play and caught the ball on the two yard line and punched it in for a 43-yard reception. It is the second-straight week Steele has caught a tipped pass for a touchdown. The PAT bounced off the upright for the 27-15 score at the break.
The Bears struck first in the second half, scoring on a one-yard run by Harris for the 27-21 score at 6:45. Brown made his third field goal of the day for the Vikings, nailing a 36-yarder with 3:25 to play in the third quarter for the 30-21 lead.
On the opening play of the fourth quarter, Walker rushed for 77 yards for a touchdown and the point-after attempt by Eden brought the Bears within two, 30-28. On the ensuing drive, the Bears saw Harris break free for a 57-yard touchdown run for the 35-30 lead with 10:54 to play.
The win ends the Bears season, giving the team a final game victory for the first time since 2003.