Late penalty ends Bears comeback
GREELEY – It looked like the Northern Colorado football team had the game won as sophomore quarterback Seth Lobato found senior wide receiver Patrick Walker for a touchdown with 3.6 seconds remaining, but the Bears were called for an illegal block and the final pass was deflected as Portland State held on for the 23-17 win.
"I can't say enough about our kids and the way they fought today," said Head Coach Earnest Collins Jr. "I felt the same way sitting in this chair two weeks ago, and for a head man, it's just kind of rough when you know your kids gave you everything they've got—you know they came down and should have won the game, and it didn't happen. The only thing I can say is we're going to feed off of this big time."
The Bears finish the 2011 season with an 0-11 record despite Walker breaking both the single season and career receptions records on another solid day for the senior, who along with 14 classmates, was honored prior to kickoff for his contributions to the team.
Walker caught nine passes for 126 yards, ending his career with five straight games with 100 or more yards in each. Those nine catches give him 178 for his career, one more than San Diego Chargers standout Vincent Jackson (2001-04) had in his four years with the Bears. It also gives Walker 84 catches this year, breaking Jackson's single season mark of 80.
"He's a special kid, man, a special kid," said Collins. "I mean, if you were watching the game, sometimes [Portland State] had three people covering Pat Walker, and still finds a way to be the guy that makes the play when the game is on the line. He's a little guy, but he's got the biggest heart, and if somebody doesn't give him a chance to play football at the next level, they're nuts."
Junior wide receiver Chris Morris also had a career-high eight catches for 87 yards, while sophomore tight end Cameron Stewart and junior Dominic Gunn each had two including a 12-yard touchdown reception for Gunn.
Along with his 28 receiving yards, Gunn had 85 kickoff return yards and eight punt return yards for his fifth 100-plus all-purpose yard game of the year.
Lobato completed 22-of-51 passes for 293 yards with one touchdown and one interception, which was returned 74 yards by DeShawn Shead for the Vikings' winning score.
"First and foremost, it's on me—the 74-yard interception—because I've just got to go with what I should have went with," said Collins. "I should have made us start running the ball because we were in field-goal range, and we had the wind, and I said it that play. I said, 'We've got to be careful with the ball because we're in field-goal range,' and I should have just made him run the ball. And so, that falls on me. That's not on Seth [Lobato], that's not on [offensive coordinator] Mike [Armour]. That's on Coach Collins. I should have made him run the ball, and we would have never been in that situation in the first place.
"But, outside of all that, we get the interception, [the Vikings] return it for the touchdown, and the kids come out, and the kids on the sideline, they're saying, 'Hey, man, this is us. Just believe.' We get a decent return [and] go down and get in field-goal range—we knew we had to get two scores, so we kicked the field-goal right away—we didn't get the onside kick, and our defense goes in one, two, three, out. We've got less than a minute to go on the clock, and Seth Lobato brings that offense out of the football field, and he drives it right down the field with no timeouts left."
Junior linebacker Cameron Friend had a career-best 17 total tackles, including nine solo stops and one tackle for loss, while sophomore linebacker Clarence Bumpas notched 12 stops – giving him double figures in the final nine games of the year – to go along with one forced fumble and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Junior Jake Schalamon, the team's long snapper, recovered a fumble after PSU's AJ Powell called for a fair-catch on a punt and dropped it, but Schalamon was right there to scoop it up for the first recovery of his career.
Portland State's Connor Kavanaugh rushed for 132 yards and threw for another 138 and broke the Big Sky Conference single-season rushing record for quarterbacks along the way. Junior kicker Zach Brown scored on three field goals from 51, 46 and 30 yards and nailed both extra points for 11 of the Viking's 23 points.
Shead led the Vikings defense. In addition to his 74-yard interception return for a touchdown, he also had a pass break-up and a team-best nine tackles with seven solo stops.
The day started off great for the Bears as they marched 80 yards down the field on eight plays on their first drive and junior John Burnley scored on a nine-yard touchdown run for the early 7-0 lead. That score held until 54 seconds remaining in the second quarter when Kavanaugh threw a six-yard pass to Justin Monahan for a 7-7 tie.
The Vikings took their opening drive of the second half 32 yards on seven plays and Brown made his 51-yard field goal for the 10-7 lead.
The Bears immediately answered as Lobato connected with Gunn to cap another 80-yard drive with 6:56 remaining in the third to give the lead back to NC, 14-13. Portland State scored on field goals on each of its next two drives to take a 16-14 advantage, which they never relinquished, though junior Dave Eden kicked a 37-yard field goal to pull the Bears within six, 23-17.
The Bears say goodbye to 15 seniors on the roster in offensive tackle Lee Barbiasz, defensive back Elliott Dorsey, fullback Andrew Downing, nose guard Marcus Felker, offensive guard Amal Gumbs, defensive end Nick Hernon, defensive tackle VJ Holmes, punter Cameron Kaman, defensive tackle Jonathan Martin, safety Chuks Nweke, quarterback Dylan Orms, defensive back Brandon Owens, defensive back Colby Riggins, center Alex Shapiro and Walker.
"My only regret when the day—I don't think, and maybe he got in there, and I just didn't see it—but I didn't get [DL Jonathan] Martin in the game, our defensive lineman," concluded Collins. "That kid, a senior, he played on the scout team all year, and he's done a great job for us over there, and that's my regret. Basically, [I should have] just started him to get him in the game. But, you know, that class in general, they are the foundation. These kids never stopped giving us what they had this year. It wasn't always pretty, but the kids kept fighting, and they kept coming out to practice and, like I told them, 'Lord willing, we're going to win games here, we're going to win championships here, and if I have to pay for it myself, those 15 guys will share in that championship with us."