10:00 PM ET, September 18, 2004
Bulldog Stadium, FRESNO, CA
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- Fresno State made its national reputation by surprising big-name opponents. Coach Pat Hill wasn't pleased when his Bulldogs nearly let Portland State make a name for itself.
Wendell Mathis rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns, and Bryson Sumlin added 127 yards in Fresno State's (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today; No. 19 AP) 27-17 victory over the Division I-AA Vikings on Saturday night.
Marcus McCauley scored on a 15-yard interception return for the Bulldogs (3-0), who took a break from their normally rugged nonconference schedule.
Though the final outcome was never seriously in doubt, Fresno State's less-than-inspiring performance after consecutive road wins over Washington and Kansas State gave Hill plenty of fodder for practice in the next two weeks.
"I know it's a hard comeback after those two games, but that's not an excuse," Hill said. "There were some areas where we didn't really do a good job. Some of the things we preach, we didn't get accomplished."
Fresno State should keep its first ranking since 2001, when the Bulldogs upset three BCS conference teams on the road.
But they weren't nearly as impressive in their home opener: Despite outgaining Portland State 2-to-1 until the final minutes, the Bulldogs committed 11 penalties and never pulled away.
Hill cited poor tackling, mental lapses and inconsistent execution, particularly on offense. His players agreed.
"It lets us know that we can't go into any game thinking we're the better team," defensive end Garrett McIntyre said. "This is going to help us, because we know that everybody is going to try to knock us off. We're going to make corrections, and we're going to come back hard."
The Vikings got within 10 points on Allen Kennett's 6-yard TD run with 2:42 to play, then drove to the Fresno State 2 in the final seconds before Joe Wiser was sacked as time ran out.
But thanks to a relentless running game behind one of the nation's best offensive lines, Fresno State is unbeaten again heading into its Western Athletic Conference schedule. The Bulldogs have two open dates in the next four weeks before a showdown at No. 23 Boise State on Oct. 23.
Fresno State had no problem replacing starting tailback Dwayne Wright, who's out for the season after hurting his knee in last Saturday's win. Given the strength of their formidable line, it seems anybody could look good carrying the ball for the Bulldogs.
"This line is the best that I've ever run behind," said Mathis, a transfer from UCLA. "You feel completely safe behind them. You just hit your holes, and you do great."
Hill turned the game into a tryout for Wright's job, and both Mathis and Sumlin gave sterling auditions.
The running backs combined for 149 yards and two scores by halftime, with Mathis scoring on runs of 8 and 15 yards. They exceeded 100 yards apiece early in the second half, giving Fresno State two 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since Sept. 28, 1996.
Sumlin scored nine touchdowns last season as the Bulldogs' short-yardage specialist. Mathis had just one carry in the first two games.
Shaun Bodiford caught eight passes for 64 yards and a score for the Vikings, who hadn't played in 16 days. Portland State is winless in six meetings with Fresno State, though the last two have been uncomfortably close for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs were welcomed home by a red-clad sellout crowd in Fresno, where fans bought 13,000 tickets in the seven days following the team's win at Kansas State. The fans didn't get many spectacular plays to cheer -- just a sound performance on both sides of the ball.
Paul Pinegar was 13-for-25 for 142 yards, throwing two interceptions, but he wasn't required to do much. The Bulldogs opened the game with 11 straight rushing plays, finishing the 80-yard drive with Mathis' 8-yard score.
McCauley, a backup cornerback, put the Bulldogs up 17-0 early in the second quarter, sneaking in front of Wiser's pass to a curling receiver and strolling into the end zone. Fresno State already has returned three interceptions for scores this season.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||8-16||5-10|
|4th Down Conversions||1-1||0-0|
|TD||9:00||Wendell Mathis 8 Yard TD Run (Brett Visintainer Extra Point)||0||7|
|FG||12:20||Brett Visintainer 39 Yard Field Goal||0||10|
|TD||11:11||Marcus McCauley 15 Yard Interception Return for TD (Brett Visintainer Extra Point)||0||17|
|TD||6:00||Shaun Bodiford 7 Yard TD Pass from Joe Wiser (Eric Azorr Extra Point)||7||17|
|TD||3:00||Wendell Mathis 15 Yard TD Run (Brett Visintainer Extra Point)||7||24|
|FG||9:00||Eric Azorr 43 Yard Field Goal||10||24|
|FG||12:05||Brett Visintainer 25 Yard Field Goal||10||27|
|TD||2:00||Allen Kennett 6 Yard TD Run (Eric Azorr Extra Point)||17||27|