Well, it came in much more dramatic fashion that Idaho fans would have liked, but the Vandals finished off the year with a win — and, man, what a win it was. All sorts of intrigue in the final moments of the Humanitarian Bowl, and you can read my game story and notes below the link.
Here’s the gamer …
By Josh Wright
BOISE – In the postgame circus, with jubilant Idaho fans strewn all about Bronco Stadium, Robb Akey emerged from a mass of people on a makeshift stage and got right to the point.
“This is the best I’ve seen this stadium look,” the Vandals football coach roared.
Thousands of UI supporters cheered in agreement, knowing they had just witnessed a Humanitarian Bowl finish on their dreaded rival’s field that will be chiseled in their memories.
Heck, much of ESPN’s audience might not forget it either.
Harkening back to the drama-filled close to the 1998 season, the Vandals snatched a miracle 43-42 victory away from Bowling Green on Wednesday by rallying for a touchdown and two-point conversion with 4 seconds left.
Haunted by drops all afternoon, Max Komar made a sliding 16-yard grab to draw Idaho within 42-41. Then Akey’s bold move paid off: Preston Davis, who had caught a 50-yard heave to set up the score, secured a laser from Enderle in the back of the end zone on the two-point try.
Davis was immediately bombarded by teammates behind the uprights. Other Vandals boogied onto the field, and even a couple of the 26,726 fans in attendance slipped onto the blue turf in a premature celebration.
The Vandals’ comeback came after the Falcons of Ohio scored the go-ahead TD with 32 seconds left and punctuated an 8-5 season that was full of manic rallies.
Just nothing quite like this, of course.
“There’s always going to be doubt in your minds when things aren’t going your way,” said safety Shiloh Keo, referring to Freddie Barnes’ 51-yard TD to give BG the late lead. “But it’s happened so many times through this season. We always press repetition and when you get in that situation and you know you’ve been successful in that situation, that doubt kind of slowly diminishes.”
Eleven years to the day that Idaho upended Southern Mississippi 42-35 in the HumBowl – and used a two-point conversion in overtime to beat Boise State to get there — the Vandals stirred up more magic.
It started with 26 seconds left. Enderle rolled to his left and launched a desperation pass down the sideline to Davis. The sophomore receiver, who finished with 119 receiving yards, came back for the ball and hauled it in despite defensive pass interference.
Two plays later, Komar managed to cleanly pluck Enderle’s TD fling just inches off the turf. UI had come to expect skilled catches like that from the senior wideout – not a batch of drops.
“Compared to the ones I was dropping, it was a lot harder,” Komar said. “… Nate has faith in me. If I was him, I would stop throwing to me after all those drops, making him look bad at the same time.”
Though there was plenty of discussion when the moment arrived, Akey said he thought about going for two even before Idaho received the kickoff. He ended up calling a timeout before the play, and BG (7-6) followed suit after seeing the Vandals’ formation.
“You know, my staff had confidence in the play,” Akey said. “My players had confidence in that play. They wanted to do it. … So that was what we elected to do. We thought, ‘Why make everybody wait for overtime? Let’s get it done now.’”
Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson was a bit surprised the Vandals went for it, but he said it made sense seeing how the defenses had been performing.
“Their coached showed a lot of courage going for it and they made it pay off for him,” Clawson said.
UI in particular was unable to slow down Barnes, who set an NCAA single-season record with his 143rd reception in the first quarter and finished with 17 catches for 219 yards. Both marks were HumBowl records.
“At the end we were praying that what happened didn’t happen,” Barnes said.
After sputtering early on offense, the Vandals couldn’t have scripted a better start to the second half. UI forced a three-and-out – after BG elected to punt on fourth-and-inches – then reeled of an overpowering 70-yard drive fueled by Vandal MVP DeMaundray Woolridge.
He carried a BG defender for an 18-yard gain, then finished the TD march with a bruising 8-yard scamper.
Things only got better from there. Safety Jeromy Jones lunged in front of receiver Chris Wright for an interception inside the Falcons’ 30, and Woolridge came right back with a lightning-quick 13-yard jaunt up the middle to make it 28-14.
Woolridge rumbled for 126 yards on 22 carries while Enderle tossed for 240 yards and four TDs.
And here’s part of the notebook …
BOISE – Max Komar scurried across the middle late in the third quarter and attempted to bring in a simple 5-yard catch – a play he’s made on dozens of occasions. But this time, the ball ricocheted off his chest and fell to the ground.
By then it was clear Idaho’s leading receiver on the year was in a deep funk. Robb Akey, the Vandals coach, could sense Komar’s frustration in Wednesday’s Humanitarian Bowl and made sure to talk to him on the sideline.
“I grabbed him after that one that bounced off his chest and said, ‘Hey, you still have time to catch a game-winner. You just got to keep believing — get that out of your head,’” Akey recalled after the Vandals’ 43-42 triumph over Bowling Green.
Sure enough, Komar came up clutch with 4 seconds left, making a skillful grab for a 16-yard touchdown to set up the game-winning two-point conversion. It was a satisfying moment for the senior.
“To win a game like this is huge and I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out,” the Auburn, Wash., native said.
In a last-second plea before his TD, Komar asked quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith to run a play for him. And all along, quarterback Nathan Enderle said the pass was headed Komar’s way.
“I’m not sure why that happened, but Max is a competitor,” Enderle said. “When it really, really matters he’s going to come through. That’s just what he did for that touchdown.”
Bowling Green star receiver Freddie Barnes came into the HumBowl will all sorts of hype and left with the respect of UI coaches and players.
The Biletnikoff Award finalist had 17 catches for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Late in the first quarter, he hauled in his fifth reception, which gave him the all-time NCAA mark for most in a season.
“I tell you what, the guy is the real deal,” Akey said. “Seventeen catches — holy cow. He’s got to be tired by now, I would think.”
Dickson’s block proves big
In the first quarter, Idaho linebacker JoJo Dickson rocketed through the BG offensive line and stuffed a 24-yard field-goal attempt. The block turned out to be a key play given the tense final moments.
Dickson was so far upfield on the play after racing past a blocker that the kick bounced off his left tricep, leaving a nice red bruise.
“I didn’t even pay attention to what the coaches said,” Dickson said. “I didn’t even know if I was supposed to go or not, but I (saw) it and I wasn’t about to let us go down by 10.
“It kind of pissed me off that we gave up a touchdown, so I know we needed to make a play.”
Akey said the Vandals’ win will have far-reaching implications. “I bet you real large that we see a bump in enrollment this fall,” he said. “I think there are a number of good things that will come from this, and it’s due to the hard work of these guys right here.” … Much of a large Bronco Stadium parking lot was full of Idaho tailgaters before the game. Once they settled in their seats, it was a very pro-Vandal atmosphere. “You saw that stadium here today,” Akey said. “I was hearing ‘Go Vandals!’ I was hearing, ‘Idaho Vandals.’ I was hearing the place go back and forth, and I heard it get loud. It was kind of like a home crowd.”