Vikings venture North

Skyview grad McDonagh, PSU play at McKenzie

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The Portland State football team huddles before scrimmage at McKenzie Stadium on Saturday.

PSU quarterback Kieran McDonagh (4) passes during scrimmage at McKenzie Stadium on Saturday.

PSU linebacker Brandon Brody-Heim (44), a Union High grad, defends during scrimmage at McKenzie Stadium on Saturday.

Portland State head football coach Nigel Burton watches scrimmage at McKenzie Stadium on Saturday.

When Kieran McDonagh signed to play football at Portland State after his senior season at Skyview, he received a few quizzical looks and dumbfounded responses.

” ‘Portland State who?’ ” McDonagh said, recalling a few of the reactions from friends. “A lot of people didn’t know they had a football team.”

Yes, Portland State plays NCAA Division I football — a fact made known on Saturday when the Vikings held their annual Spring Game at Evergreen High’s McKenzie Stadium. According to a team media official, it was the first time that the Vikings crossed the river to Vancouver for their spring game.

“It was great,” said McDonagh, who started all 11 games for the Vikings last season as a true freshman. “A bunch of my friends came to watch me play. So did my family. I think it’s good we’re growing outside of Portland.”

During the game in which the PSU offense outplayed the defense by securing the 20-13 win in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter, McDonagh threw for two touchdowns and 131 yards.

McDonagh, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound sophomore, played the first series before PSU alternated in Collin Ramirez and Paris Penn, but sharing the quarterback duty did not disrupt his rhythm. McDonagh completed nine consecutive passes before tossing his first incompletion and finished 12 of 14.

“He’s just improved so much as a passer. When you’ve got his arm strength, you can do some things,” head coach Nigel Burton said. “It’s kinda scary because his mechanics aren’t always great but he’s still getting it there. So you don’t know if you should say something or not but it just shows his talent.”

It could be just the kind of talent that attracts more Vancouver-area players to the Vikings.

“I think we’ve recruited here well but absolutely, it’s just another opportunity to play in front of guys and make it easy for them,” Burton said. “When they see that a lot of our stars are from here, I think that’s a great selling point.”

A “lot” is a bit of an overstatement considering that McDonagh and former Union standout Brandon Brody-Heim are the only local players on the current PSU roster, and one did not even play a down on Saturday.

Brody-Heim, a sophomore linebacker, said that he had heart surgery on Monday and despite his best efforts, could not make a comeback five days later.

“I was going to play,” he explained. “I actually suited up but they just shut me down.” Brody-Heim said that he expects to be ready by the Aug. 29 season opener at JELD-WEN Field.

Before then, McDonagh should have bragging rights over his roommate, Brody-Heim, since the offense toppled the defense.

With 37 seconds remaining in a tied game, the PSU offense ran a double-pass trick play. Penn hit slot receiver David Jones who then found Thomas Carter, who was so uncovered that he backpedaled into the end zone to complete the 40-yard touchdown.

“We haven’t run that (play) at all all spring,” McDonagh said. “It was one of those spur of the moment things.”