Tied at halftime. Down a touchdown to start the fourth quarter. Driving. Inside the opponent's 10-yard line.
Poised once again for a possible breakthrough victory against something other than a fellow college football bottom-feeder, the Idaho Vandals instead lost their poise -- surrendering the ball on a red-zone fumble and then a long drive that let San Diego State ease away to a 35-21 victory Saturday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium.
If it wasn't a full fourth-quarter meltdown, it was at least a familiar enough narrative that it got under coach Paul Petrino's skin -- though he may have contributed to the problem.
For more on the Vandals and their 21st consecutive road loss, jump on the link.
For your perusal, here's a game story from the San Diego Union-Tribune, and another account from Idaho's school website. You can find the game box here, and photo galleries here, here and here. A few assorted quotes from SDSU coach Rocky Long and Petrino are here.
The anatomy of Idaho's loss, as noted, was all too familiar.
From that 14-14 halftime tie, the Vandals offense sputtered immediately in the second half with three straight 3-and-outs. Mixed in there was the killing big play -- this one a quick slant pass from Aztec quarterback Quinn Kaehler to Eric Judge that went for 58 yards and a touchdown thanks to coverage and angle mistakes by Vandal defensive backs Bradley Njoku and Russell Sivaii. The Aztecs then bumped the lead to 28-14 on a 61-yard drive that included completions of 19, 16 and 17 yards.
But Chad Chalich -- who made his first start of the season at quarterback -- finally got the Vandals rolling again, and took advantage of a mix-up in the SDSU secondary to find a wide-open Josh McCain on a 51-yard touchdown pass that pulled Idaho within a touchdown late in the third quarter. The Idaho defense picked up on the energy and forced a quick Aztec punt, and soon the Vandals were at it again -- mixing Chalich completions with Elijhaa Penny runs and gashing their way to the SDSU 7.
But on third and 2, running back Jerrel Brown fumbled and SDSU's Josh Gavert recovered -- and the Aztecs pieced together an 86-yard drive for the clinching touchdown.
"Until we quit hurting ourselves in key situations," Petrino said, "we're not going to get over the hump."
Of course, after riding Penny (who finished with 90 yards rushing) on that drive, it seemed odd that Petrino would turn to Brown in close -- especially as that's been Penny's domain all year (10 touchdowns) and that the coach has insisted on several occasions that his approach is to "ride the hot hand."
On other fronts:
-- Chalich completed 11 of 22 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, but he was most impressive running the football -- he had 80 yards on the ground in the first half, including a terrific zone-read keeper for a score. But the Aztecs adjusted to account for Chalich the runner and kept him without a positive yard the rest of the way. Petrino indicated the quarterback sustained a groin injury during the game that limited his effectiveness in the second half, and Chalich was subbed out for former starter Matt Linehan on a couple of occasions after being rocked.
-- Anthony Rice made his first start of the season at defensive end ahead of Maxx Forde, who had been limited in practice all week.
-- Bragging rights in the Penny family debate go to Rashaad, an Aztec freshman. His team won. He also had a 41-yard kickoff return on his only touch of the game. Big brother Elijhaa, as noted, was Idaho's leading rusher with 90 yards and a touchdown.
-- Petrino: "There's an old saying: 'Be at your best when your best is needed.' We need to do that. When we start doing that, we'll start having success. We had a chance to win our last five games, but we didn't."
-- The Vandals return home for their final Kibbie Dome appearance next Saturday when Sun Belt Conference play resumes with a 2 p.m. game against Troy.