The way things were heading through three quarters tonight, it looked as if Idaho would go quietly for once. But no, the Vandals made things oh-so interesting in the fourth quarter before falling 31-21 to Fresno State. Read on more in my game story.
Before I get to my gamer, a couple notes. Just 12,418 fans showed up for the ESPNU game, and FSU quarterback Ryan Colburn was a perfect 14-for-14 passing. Jeromy Jones could have a possible broken collar bone or shoulder; if so, he will be out for the year, Robb Akey. Mike Iupati also missed the last couple drives after a possible concussion.
MOSCOW, Idaho – The first ominous sign for fans inside the Kibbie Dome was the sight of quarterback Nathan Enderle attempting to warm up before the game – with his non-throwing hand.
Enderle was a no-go Saturday night with a shoulder injury, and it didn’t matter what sort of decoy Idaho coaches tried to throw at Fresno State. The way things spiraled out of control early, no ploy was going to work.
With their starting QB sidelined, the Vandals quickly came undone in a 31-21 loss to the Bulldogs. It was Idaho’s first home defeat of the season, and it came in a much-anticipated Western Athletic Conference showdown.
“I’m disappointed, very disappointed,” coach Robb Akey said. “We did not play good football tonight, and a good football team can’t spot another good football team (that many points).”
Down 31-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Vandals (7-3, 4-2) couldn’t muster a miracle comeback like last week against Louisiana Tech – though they certainly made things interesting. Brian Reader, Enderle’s replacement, scrambled for a 4-yard TD run with 12:21 remaining, then found Eric Greenwood for the 2-point conversion to slice FSU’s lead to 16 points.
The Vandal defense forced a punt on the next FSU possession and Idaho began to drive after getting the ball back. But after DeMaundray Woolridge squeezed his way to a first down on fourth-and-1, the running back had the ball jarred loose and Fresno State recovered.
Still, it wasn’t over after the takeaway. With just 25 seconds left, Reader found Maurice Shaw for a 69-yard bomb to make it 31-21. But the 2-point conversion failed and even after recovering the onside kick, Idaho ran out of time.
If it weren’t for the woefully slow start, a trend throughout the season, the Vandals felt like they might still be in position for their first WAC title.
“If I knew how to solve the slow starts that we’re getting off to, we would have done it by now,” defensive end Aaron Lavarias said. “I’m not sure what it was. I guess the football gods didn’t smile on us at the end like they had been.”
Before the comeback attempt, it was a nightmarish first three quarters for the Vandals. On the first play from scrimmage, Ryan Mathews took a handoff, started right and flattened safety Jeromy Jones as he cut back up the middle. The nation’s leading rusher then won a footrace down the sideline with Shiloh Keo for a 77-yard TD.
After Idaho’s first drive fizzled with a missed 54-yard field goal, FSU again quieted the crowd – but this time it was through the air. QB Ryan Colburn found Marlon Moore for a 41-yard connection, then hit Seyi Ajirotutu for an 18-yard TD.
Both long passes came against freshman cornerback Aaron Grymes, who was promptly benched. The secondary was already thin after Jones was injured on the first of Mathews’ three touchdown runs.
By the time the Vandals could claw out points – a 14-yard hookup from Reader to Max Komar – there was just 5:51 left in the third quarter. The TD helped relax Reader, who completed just two passes in the first half of first collegiate start but finished 12 of 25 for 240 yards.
“I wanted to go big and be aggressive,” Reader said. “Coaches told me to be aggressive so that’s what I went with today. It did not come out the best.”
The Vandals rarely clicked without Enderle, a redshirt junior who hadn’t missed a game since his freshman year. Akey said he could be back for next week’s matchup at No. 7 Boise State, but he’s day-to-day.