I must say I never thought I would write that headline. But yep, the Vandals are 6-1 after a 35-23 win over Hawaii at the Kibbie Dome. A pretty quiet, smallish crowd of 12,763 was on hand as Idaho ensured at least a .500 record, making a bowl bid highly likely — though not guaranteed. At this point, I can’t imagine the Humanitarian Bowl not inviting Idaho at the end of the season.
Read on for my story and other thoughts.
First, here’s my story that’s been posted on the home page already. I’ve pasted it below too with one small statistical correction.
MOSCOW, Idaho – A Texas-sized grin plastered on his face, safety Shiloh Keo galloped off the field Saturday repeating the same four words.
“We’ve got a shot,” he hollered, referring to a December bowl berth. “We’ve got a shot.”
Actually, the Vandals have more than a chance – and with how they’re humming along, they have loftier aspirations than a date in Boise for the Humanitarian Bowl.
Picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference, Idaho bumped its record to 6-1 and kept an improbable spot atop the league standings with a 35-23 triumph over Hawaii.
For the first time since 1998, the Vandals are all but assured of a postseason bid and sit at 3-0 in the WAC heading into next week’s showdown at Nevada.
“I think it’s great for our seniors, great for our fans, the whole team, Coach (Robb) Akey,” quarterback Nathan Enderle said. “It’s a great start. But that’s all it is is a start. We need to keep rolling.”
Idaho rang up its fifth consecutive victory – its longest winning streak since 1994 – and bested the Warriors for the first time since joining the WAC in 2005. The accomplishments came with 12,763 on hand at the Kibbie Dome.
It was a relatively stress-free win after three nail-biters in a row. The Vandals rushed for 194 yards, got an efficient 14-of-17 performance from Enderle and came up with a crucial fourth-quarter sack and fumble recovery.
Idaho’s maligned secondary continued to struggle, but the defense held UH (2-4, 0-3) to just seven points in the second half before the Warriors scored with 19 seconds left.
The turnaround after a rocky beginning came thanks to more pressure on quarterback Bryant Moniz. Defensive end Aaron Lavarias had his finest game of the season, securing two of the team’s four sacks and popping the ball loose from Moniz to force a key fumble.
“That’s what we pray for every single snap,” Keo said the D-line getting to the quarterback. It allows (the secondary) to play a little easier and doesn’t put a lot of stress on us.”
A sterling start to the second half helped Idaho settle into a groove. The Vandals registered their first three-and-out on defense, then constructed a textbook scoring drive.
They traveled 81 yards in 14 plays and chewed up 71/2 minutes off the clock before DeMaundray Woolridge punched in a 4-yard TD run.
Woolridge, a 241-pound senior, rambled for four scores on the ground – he now has 12 on the season – and finished with 81 yards on 17 carries. He was complemented by Princeton McCarty’s 89 yards.
“I love it here,” said Woolridge, a transfer from Washington State. “I mean, we’re a family. We play together, we play as a team.”
The running game was in a good rhythm for most of the game, but it was Enderle and his receivers who came up with huge third-down conversions when needed. The QB found Max Komar for a 26-yard connection on third-and-25 to set up Woolridge’s last TD and tight end Daniel Hardy caught two key passes on third down.
An energetic Hardy helped pump up an otherwise quiet crowd with his first grab of the day. The satisfying return to the Dome for the junior came after a kidney injury kept him out against Colorado State and limited his reps last week.
“It’s almost like I’ve had so much energy pent up from sitting out the Colorado State game and not being 100 percent the San Jose State game,” Hardy said. “Before the game, I just like it was time to go.”
Akey was pleased that fans didn’t rush the field like they had after the CSU contest. Indeed, UI faithful seem to be expecting the Vandals to win after a fantastic start. But the coach would still like more people in the seats.
“Those of y’all that weren’t here,” Akey said, “I was a little disappointed that you weren’t. There were a few empty seats out there. I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but you better get here.”
NOTES — The game was delayed for perhaps 10 minutes in the second quarter when Hawaii receiver Rodney Bradley was taken off the field in an ambulance. He’s out for the season with a broken leg, UH coach Greg McMackin said.
Some other notes that didn’t make it in: Woolridge’s 12 rushing TDs are just four shy of Joel Thomas’ 16 in 1998 — a record for Idaho since moving to the FBS ranks. … Enderle’s 82-percent completion percentage was a career best. … The Warriors racked up 367 yards through the air with the nation’s leading receiver Greg Salas getting 111 yards on 10 catches.
Finally, here are some quotes that caught my eye. This first one from Daniel Hardy is especially telling: “I think the great teams expect to win. Going into this season, I think as a whole community, as a whole team, we didn’t exactly know how good we could be. And now we’re all starting to see that. It’s not that we’re cocky. We have a confidence about us. We expect to win.”
Akey: “There was too much movement of the football in the first half against the defense. There were two goal-line stands by our defense, one was to force the field goal and the other Hawaii was trying to get something out of it with the fake field goal, and our players responded to that. To me, that was very, very big.”
“The way our offense is moving and the way that front can do some things, I think that gives me a lot of confidence in our football team. I think it gives our players a lot of confidence. It means these guys have come a long ways. It means they’ve done a lot of things that a lot people in the outside world told them they couldn’t do it. It means they’re another step closer to some of the goals we have set for ourselves. What I appreciate about these guys very much is that they continue to work their tails off. I’m proud for them that they’re starting to see some of the success come.”
Enderle: “We moved it pretty easy. Nothing against their defense, but I just thought we were playing pretty well.”
Enderle on Woolridge: “I wish he didn’t take some of the touchdowns away from other people. But if you’ve got a guy like that, you’ve got to keep him (feeding) him for sure, especially down there.”
LB JoJo Dickson, who had a very nice game: “We knew we had to get on them fast. If their offense gets rolling, they’re dangerous. If we keep them inconsistent and keep turning them down, we knew they would fold.
Keo: “This next game, going up against Nevada, they’re a great team. It’s going to be a great week for us. There’s going to be a lot of emphasis and a lot of importance on this next game because it gets us one step close to a bowl game and one step closer to winning the WAC. And those are our goals.”
By the way, Nevada barely escaped against lowly Utah State, winning 35-32. I can already guess what will be the most interesting aspect of next week’s game: Nevada leads the nation in rushing and Idaho has done a stellar job defending the run. Should be interesting.