Cougs pounce back in Martin Stadium

WSU dominates second game of season, beats Portland State 44-24



WSU fans cheer on the Cougs against Portland State on Sept. 11, 2021, in Martin Stadium.

AARIK LONG, Evergreen reporter

Following a tough start in the season opener, WSU got things back on the right foot with a 44-24 win against Portland State on Saturday.

“It’s a good way to win,” Head Coach Nick Rolovich said.

The Cougars definitely seemed to learn from their mistakes, playing an offense that was more fitting of their personnel and doing a much better job of closing the game out late.

“We felt the pressure going on,” linebacker Jahad Woods said. “We knew we needed to win this game.”

Defensively, the Cougs came out of the gates hot. Following a three-and-out on offense, the defense was able to give the ball back to their offensive unit with a forced fumble at midfield.

WSU wide receiver Lincoln Victor leads his team into Martin Stadium on Sept. 11, 2021.

Halid Djibril would force the fumble, while Andrew Edson would record his second fumble recovery in as many games.

WSU took advantage with three rushes followed by a 22-yard pass from Jayden de Laura to Calvin Jackson Jr. that put the Cougars on top with a 7-0 lead.

“I know [Jackson Jr.] can make plays,” de Laura said. “I know I can trust him.”

That early touchdown fueled the defense, who would go out and force a three-and-out of its own to get the ball back quickly. 

The Cougars were on the doorstep of a second touchdown when an ill-advised pass into double coverage was picked off in the front of the end zone by Portland State’s Anthony Adams. 

The two teams would trade a pair of punts to wrap up the first frame, but the Vikings were marching down the field when those first 15 minutes expired.

As the second quarter opened up, Portland State contained their trek to the end zone. That journey would bring them to a first and goal from the half-yard line. The Cougar defense would come up big on back-to-back plays before Vikings’ quarterback Davis Alexander would scramble in for the touchdown and the tie.

WSU wasted very little time responding on their next drive. The Cougars would pick up 46 yards on three plays. De Laura would cap the drive off with a 10-yard scramble to put WSU up 14-7. The Cougs did not look back, as they held that lead for the remainder of the game.

WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura dives for a touchdown on Sept. 11, 2021, in Martin Stadium.

After forcing a punt from Portland State, WSU took over on their own 20. Seven plays later, Deon McIntosh ran the ball 16 yards up the middle to extend the WSU lead to 21-7

“The run game only works when the pass game is working,” Max Borghi said.

Cody Williams would put three more points on the board for Portland State on their next drive. Not to be outdone, de Laura would find Travell Harris from 19 yards out to cap off a six-play, 73-yard drive.

WSU would add one more field goal following a late interception from Justus Rogers to head into the locker room with a 30-10 lead on the back of four straight scoring drives. 

Portland State would come out of the locker room hot and looking for a score. After driving down to the WSU 17-yard line, Portland State would come up empty, turning the ball back over to WSU on downs.

On the first drive of the second half, Borghi started with back-to-back rushes to bring him up to 13 touches in the game. Compare that to last week when Borghi racked up 12 touches in the full game, and it is somewhat clear how and why the WSU offense was working more efficiently.

“Let’s give them more opportunities where we just hand the ball off,” Rolovich said.

That drive would fizzle out with a failed fourth-down conversion in no man’s land, but it is just one clear example of how the offense was operating differently this week than last week.

After forcing a punt on the next Vikings drive, WSU would take the ball 66 yards in six plays to find the end zone and a 37-10 lead. The highlight of the drive was a leaping catch from De’Zhaun Stribling on the sideline to pick up 19 yards and put WSU inside the 5-yard line.

Two plays later, the running back would cap it off with a 1-yard touchdown run immediately following a “Borghi” chant. The one drive would be the lone score of a quick third quarter.

Butch T. Cougar hypes the fans inside Martin Stadium up during WSU’s game against Portland State on Sept. 11, 2021

The final quarter started with Portland State needing 8 yards on a crucial third down. Brennan Jackson and Willie Taylor III had different plans, recording a sack and forcing another punt for the Vikings.

After one more short drive and a punt, de Laura would exit the game and Victor Gabalis would take over. It seemed as though they were going to rest their starter, but he would return on the next offensive drive. 

The drive after Gabalis entered the game, the Vikings would manage to go 56 yards on six plays, ending with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Alexander to Beau Kelly. This would trim the WSU lead down to 37-17.

“Victor had a really good week,” Rolovich said.

De Laura would reenter the game on the very next drive as WSU looked to kill the clock. The combo of the quarterback and Nakia Watson helped the Cougs push the ball down the field, while still killing some clock along the way. 

The drive would go 4 minutes and 29 seconds, by far the longest of the night for WSU. De Laura and Harris would cap it off with a 13-yard touchdown pass on fourth and seven to push the lead out to 44-17 and all but put a wrap on the game with 2 minutes to go.

Portland State did not go down without a fight, however, going down the field and scoring on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Alexander to Nate Bennett with 23 seconds left.

“I think it is gonna be a confidence boost to them to win fairly convincingly, even though we could have been better,” Rolovich said.

De Laura would finish his night completing 21 of 29 passes, picking up 303 yards through the air, throwing three touchdown passes, running for a fourth and throwing just one interception.

“I think he is really settling in,” Rolovich said. “He has a way of keeping the defense on their toes.”

The trio of Borghi, McIntosh and Watson finished with 139 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.

“I’m very thankful for my running backs,” Harris said. “Max Borghi and Deon, they did a good job.”

WSU running back Nakia Watson hurdles Portland State Vikings safety Ryan Lesch on Sept. 11, 2021, in Martin Stadium.

On the receiving end of the ball, Jackson Jr. and Harris went off for a combined 157 yards for three touchdowns on nine catches.

WSU will return to action for their third home game of the season next Saturday when they host the USC Trojans.

“We’re gonna enjoy this one. We know USC is coming in next week,” Rolovich said. “We know USC is very talented. We know the challenge is going to be there.”