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By HEATHER KENNEDY
PORTLAND – Any fan of Portland State and Northern Colorado football teams knows you better not leave your seat early when the two teams square off on the gridiron and Saturday was no different as the Bears erased an 18-point deficit to win 32-28 over the Vikings at JELD-WEN Field.
Trailing 28-10 with under 10 minutes left in the third quarter, the Bears (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky) scored 21 unanswered, two by senior wide receiver and return specialist Dominic Gunn for the first road win since the 2010 season finale – at Portland State (3-6, 2-4), where the Bears also erased an 18-point hole for a 35-30 win.
"We've been working with the kids in believing in themselves, in doing the right things both on and off the field and we talk about playing as a team and this game was absolutely, no question, a team victory," Head Coach Earnest Collins Jr., said. "From the defense coming up with the stops they needed, to the offense putting points on the board when they needed it and what can you say about Dom Gunn? Scoring that touchdown on special teams was awesome. I can't explain it, it was awesome.
Gunn ended the game with 182 all-purpose yards and 83 came on a punt-return for a touchdown to begin the Bears' comeback. Gunn had 107 punt return yards, seven catches for 64 yards and one kickoff return for 11 yards, making him one of just five players in Big Sky Conference history with over 2,000 career kickoff returns.
"I told the kids at halftime when we were down 11 that we need to come out and erase the 11 point deficit in the third quarter and then take it in the fourth quarter," Collins said. "And we came out and gave them another touchdown so they were up 18. We still erased that 11-point deficit, actually an 18-point deficit and the kids just kept fighting and believing in one another. That's what we've been talking about these last few weeks is believing in one another and we came up short last week but I told the kids, 'we cannot let this get away from us. We have to go out and finish this.' And they finished it."
The defense limited the Vikings to just 90 yards of offense in the second half after giving up 252 in the first and had three tackles for a loss of 27 total yards.
Junior quarterback Seth Lobato completed 26-of-42 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He was also intercepted once and sacked twice and completed 12-of-20 after the halftime break.
Lobato connected with seven different receivers in the contest, going to Gunn seven times, sophomore Dimitri Stimphil five times for 41 yards and junior Tromaine Dennis four times for 53 yards. He also threw three passes each to junior Jace Davis (46), junior Will Jefferson Jr. (76) and senior Doug Steele (34).
Dennis rushed the ball 22 times for 50 net yards, while Lobato had his second rushing touchdown of the year, but ended the game with a negative one yard.
Both seniors Marcel Gibbons and Herve Tonye-Tonye led the team with seven tackles each and Tonye-Tonye had his first career-interception off a Leilon Willingham tipped pass on the Vikings first drive of the game.
On the ensuing drive, Stimphil had two catches for 35 yards to help set up a 30-yard field goal by junior kicker Dave Eden for the early 3-0 lead.
Portland State answered with a touchdown drive, but Gibbons blocked the extra point, snapping a streak of 22 straight by Portland State kicker Zach Brown.
In the second quarter, Davis broke the Northern Colorado Division I consecutive games with a catch record, pulling in an 11-yarder for his 23rd straight game with at least one reception. A little later in the period, he caught his second giving his multiple catches in all 23 of those games.
DJ Adams scored on an eight-yard run around the left end for Portland State to extend the Vikings lead to 10, 13-3 with 4:23 to play in the second quarter.
The Bears pulled within three, 13-10, on a 35-yard touchdown reception by Jefferson with 1:03 left in the half. It is the first score of the year for Jefferson and the sixth consecutive game Lobato has thrown a pass for a touchdown.
With just 17 seconds left in the half after a 54-yard kickoff return by Nevin Lewis, the Vikings scored an eight-yard touchdown and the two-point conversion was good for the 21-10 tally.
Portland State extended its lead to 18 after the Bears had a poor snap on a punt attempt, giving the Vikings a short field. The Vikings went 14 yards in three plays with a four-yard rush up the middle by Adams for the 28-10 score.
Gunn returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown, his third special teams score of the year to bring the Bears back within 11, 28-17 with 6:36 to play in the third.
Lobato capped a 64-yard, nine-play drive by calling his own number for his second rushing touchdown of the year and hit Jace Davis in the endzone for the two-point conversion as the Bears pulled within three, 28-25 with 36 ticks left in the third quarter.
The Bears defense held for a three-and-out to end the third quarter and force the Vikings to punt to Gunn again. He returned it 13 yards to give him over 100 punt return yards for the second time this year.
Northern Colorado took a 32-28 lead on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Lobato to Gunn with 7:26 remaining after driving 57 plays on six yards.
"The look on my kids' faces," Collins said was the highlight of the game. "To see them get a victory on the road. I've won a lot of games in my career, but to see the look on their faces after they get their first road victory in a long time, I don't have words for it."