Another crazy afternoon/evening at the Kibbie Dome. The Vandals looked to be in a bad spot late against Louisiana Tech, but they came roaring back to win 35-34 for their seventh win of the season.
Read on for my unedited game story.
MOSCOW, Idaho – You can argue that the festive postgame mob scene at midfield should have never unfolded, that the Idaho football team had no business turning a ho-hum performance into a heart-pounding Halloween thriller.
But two months into an astonishing revival, the charm-filled Vandals have long since said goodbye to old habits and conventional wisdom. They’re bound to make things entertaining – no matter the circumstances and especially in front of home fans.
Trailing by 13 points with less than 6 minutes left on Saturday, Idaho once again found a way to secure an unlikely Western Athletic Conference victory. This time UI flipped on the switch just in time, scoring on a 2-yard leap into the end zone from DeMaundray Woolridge with 52 seconds left to nip Louisiana Tech 35-34.
The Bulldogs’ Matt Nelson, who botched what turned out to a critical extra point earlier, watched his 56-yard field goal attempt flutter wide left as time expired. The two missed boots helped give Idaho (7-2, 4-1) what appears to be enough victories for a bowl berth, though nothing is guaranteed.
“It’s certainly closer to reality,” coach Robb Akey said. “We can’t rest, though. We can’t bank on saying seven’s enough. So much matters on how the season ends up for everybody.”
One thing the Vandals have going for them is that two of their final three games are at home, where they’re unbeaten and riding a huge wave of momentum. They’ll entertain Fresno State, also 4-1 in league play, next Saturday night.
Idaho’s latest manic triumph came after a mostly disjointed performance with 15,236 homecoming fans on hand. UI fell behind by 14 points twice following Justin Veltung’s 94-yard opening kickoff return, with the defense appearing helpless and the offense out of sorts.
Once it finally looked like the Vandals had found a rhythm, they went through three possessions were they fumbled after a perfectly executed fake punt, missed a 47-yard field goal and gave Louisiana Tech (3-5, 2-3) the ball on an Nathan Enderle interception.
But the defense tightened at the right moment, forcing three Louisiana Tech punts in the fourth quarter to set the stage for a revived offense to put together two touchdown drives in the final minutes. Both were capped by short Woolridge runs.
“I think it shows a lot of courage to come back and play and keep going even though we started off so slow,” said Enderle, who found Daniel Hardy over the middle for a 21-yard reception to set up the game-winning TD.
After Woolridge put the Vandals on top, the Bulldogs – without starting tailback Daniel Porter and explosive receiver Phillip Livas to injury – marched to Idaho’s 39 with one second left. Nelson then came out for what would have been a career long field goal, but it was left from the start.
The miss sparked a raucous celebration at the midfield Vandal logo, with players, coaches and fans bouncing up and down in unison.
“It feels great,” defensive end Aaron Lavarias said. “I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end it, except us maybe winning by 50.”
UI receiver Max Komar led the club with seven catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns and Enderle recovered to finish with 327 passing yards after a forgettable first half.
In fact, it was a dismal opening two periods for the whole club. Louisiana Tech racked up 360 yards of offense and scored at will by tossing jump balls into the corner of the end zone over Idaho’s banged-up secondary.
But LTU coach Derek Dooley pulled quarterback Ross Jenkins after a sputtering start to the third quarter, and the Vandals held Tech to just six points in the second half.
“We kept it entertaining, we kept it interesting,” Akey said. “All that matters is that we came out with the proper finish. And that’s what I’m excited about.”