There’s a correlation here somewhere. The younger the Idaho football team gets, the older offensive coordinator George Yarno feels.
The Vandals’ future and present collided on Saturday to knock out North Texas, 30-17, in front of 10,270 at the Kibbie Dome.
Playing with four freshmen on the line, and at various times a handful of freshmen elsewhere on offense, Idaho managed to hold off a furious Mean Green pass rush. Freshman Jeremy Wallace, a walk-on from Post Falls, saw his first significant playing time after starting center Bill Verdonk suffered hand and knee injuries in the first half.
“I aged 10 years today,” said Yarno, after UI improved to 3-2 overall, 1-0 in the Big West Conference.
But Yarno aged gracefully, proudly watching as his pups up front gave quarterback Brian Brennan just enough time to chuck 49 passes, most quick strikes to avoid the wave of rushers.
Of Brennan’s 34 completions, eight went to freshmen Willie Alderson, Anthony Tenner and Jeffrey Townsley. Add in running back Laki Ah Hi, receiver Matt McElravy and return man Bobby Grey, all of whom played a considerable amount of time, and it was essentially freshmen orientation day.
Not that the veterans didn’t perform. Brennan shrugged off a subpar first half to finish with 396 passing yards, two touchdown passes and a quick-kick punt that spun sideways and went out of bounds at the 1. A balata football? “Four letter word,” Brennan confessed, “l-u-c-k.”
Antonio Wilson caught nine passes for 125 yards, many in key situations as the Vandals pulled away from a 10-10 tie in the third quarter.
Idaho’s defense was in a pressure mode, too. Sophomore linebacker James Durrough had three sacks and a freight-train hit in the fourth quarter that left quarterback Jason Mills woozy. Safety Kevin Hill forced a fumble inside Idaho’s 20 and also recovered a fumble at UI’s 1 in the second half.
The Mean Green running game netted 36 yards in 28 attempts and the passing game was anemic until a couple of long-gainers in the second half made matters interesting.
North Texas (2-4, 0-1) tried to take advantage of UI’s inexperienced line, rushing as many as seven. It swallowed up Idaho’s running game, but not the air attack.
“With four freshmen on the line we have a tendency for everyone to think everything at once,” said Wallace, listed at 223 pounds, but closer to 270. “Coach Yarno just told us to relax. I was pretty nervous; you can’t help but be nervous the first time.”
“We’d get free,” Mean Green linebacker Benny Cherry said, “but he (Brennan) had a quick release.”
“They were bringing more people than we could block,” Brennan said. “We spread out the field so they couldn’t do it, or if they did someone was open.”
Idaho seemed in control most of the way, though the scoreboard didn’t provide comfirmation. Jerome Thomas swept left end, following a clear-out block by freshman guard Brett Morton, for a 46-yard TD less than 3 minutes into the first quarter.
The Vandals botched a field-goal attempt to allow North Texas to even the score. A low snap threw off the timing on Troy Scott’s field-goal attempt. Brian Wilturner smothered the kick, Scott Blank picked up the ball and fumbled into the arms of teammate Phillip Littlejohn, who returned it 66 yards for a score.
Scott’s career-long 48-yard field goal, despite another low snap, gave UI a 10-7 lead at the half. North Texas’ Garrett Courtney forged another tie with a 40-yard field goal that deflected favorably off the left upright in the third quarter.
Brennan, just before getting clobbered by a blitzer, lofted a 49-yard pass to Deon Price to jump-start Idaho’s go-ahead drive. Townsley ran down a 17-yard TD pass in the left corner to put UI up 17-10.
“We’ve had some adversity with injuries (to three offensive linemen), and our kids keep coming back,” Yarno beamed. “It’s a great team to be associated with.”
Idaho 30, North Texas 17
North Texas 0 7 3 7 - 17
Idaho 7 3 7 13 - 30
Ida-J. Thomas 46 run (T. Scott kick), 12:20. NT-Littlejohn 66 field goal return (Courtney kick), 10:54.
Ida-FG T. Scott 48, 3:19. NT-FG Courtney 40, 11:36.
Ida-Townsley 17 pass from Brennan (T. Scott kick), 6:44. Ida-Brennan 14 run (T. Scott kick), 12:11.
NT-McGrew 44 pass from Mills (Courtney kick), 7:20.
Ida-Alderson 13 pass from Brennan (Uranga pass failed), 4:35.
NT Ida First downs 10 23 Rushes-yards 28-36 35-105 Passing 173 396 Comp-Att-Int 27-13-1 50-34-0 Return Yards 18 91 Punts-Avg. 8-46.9 8-42.1 Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-1 Penalties-Yards 8-65 10-106 Time of Possession 23:23 36:37 RUSHING-North Texas, Allred 15-56, Mills 6-4, Wilburn 2-3, Hampton 2-1, Corley 1-(-9), McLane 2-(-19). Idaho, J. Thomas 18-90, Tenner 7-23, Ah Hi 3-0, Brennan 7-(-8).
PASSING-North Texas, Mills 13-25-1-173, McLane 0-2-0-0, Corley 0-0-0-0. Idaho, Brennan 34-49-0-396, Price 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING-North Texas, Harrison 5-63, Young 2-9, McGrew 1-44, Waters 1-33, Coleman 1-8, Allred 1-8, Hollie 1-7, Grimes 1-1. Idaho, Wilson 9-125, Alderson 6-56, Prestimonico 5-47, Pankratz 4-38, Price 3-50, J. Thomas 3-27, Stombaugh 2-18, Townsley 1-17, Tenner 1-8.