RUSTON, La. – Jayson Bird rushed for a pair of touchdowns and the Idaho defense forced eight turnovers as the Vandals posted a 24-14 victory over the Louisian Tech Bulldogs in a Western Athletic Conference football game Saturday in Ruston, La.
With the win the Vandals (4-3, 3-0) sit alone on top of the WAC standings – for a day at least. Boise State (6-0, 2-0) plays at New Mexico State tonight.
Idaho’s defense countered three turnovers by the Vandals offense with four interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
“We played great defense, particularly in the second half,” said Idaho coach Dennis Erickson. “Offensively, we did what we had to do when we needed to but we had too many turnovers.”
The Vandals are 3-0 in conference play for the first time since the 1999 season when they were in the Sun Belt Conference. Their four victories are more than they’ve had in a season since that 1999 campaign and this is their first three-game winning streak since then.
“It’s a good win,” Erickson said. “Anytime you come down here and win, it’s a good win.”
But, it didn’t come without a price. Linebacker Jo Artis Ratti (knee), running back Brian Flowers (ankle), and defensive tackle Ryan Davis (shoulder) all left the game with injuries. The extent of their injuries isn’t known yet.
Stanley Franks led the interception parade for Idaho with his sixth pick in the past five games. Jaron Williams, David Vobora and Chris Smith also picked off passes. Josh Bousman recovered two fumbles, while Robert Davis and Charles Campbell each recovered one. Ratti, George Fa`avae and Alex Toailoa all posted sacks.
All told, the Vandals limited Louisiana Tech (1-5, 0-2) to just 211 yards of total offense – 74 rushing and 137 passing.
Turnovers aside, the Vandals offense played well.
Quarterback Steven Wichman completed 14 of 27 passes for 238 yards with one interception and scored a touchdown on a 7-yard run in the third quarter.
Max Komar led the Vandals receivers with 101 yards – and he needed just two receptions to get there.
Flowers and Bird fueled the ground attack. Prior to his injury, Flowers had 12 carries for 60 yards. Bird finished with 56 yards on 22 carries.
Idaho failed to convert on a pair of early scoring opportunities.
Campbell recovered a Bulldogs fumble, but it was three-and-out for the Vandals’ offense. Vobora snagged his interception and returned it to the Louisiana Tech 44-yard line, but the drive stalled on the 9-yard line and Idaho came away without any points when Tino Amancio miss on a 26-yard field-goal attempt.
The next drive, however, was productive. After gaining possession at its own 19, Idaho covered 81 yards in six plays with Bird scoring on a 5-yard run with 2:30 to go in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. The key play in the drive was a Wichman pass to Max Komar that covered 52 yards.
The Bulldogs quickly knotted the score at 7 on their next possession.
A 40-yard kick return jump started a six-play, 52-yard drive, culminating when Patrick Jackson bulled his way into the end zone from 1 yard out just 4 seconds into the second quarter.
Louisiana Tech capitalized on a Vandals fumble at the Bulldogs’ 40-yard line to take its only lead of the game. Freddie Franklin’s 11-yard scoring run capped a three-play 60-yard drive – putting the Bulldogs up 14-7 with 3:53 remaining in the second quarter.
The Vandals were forced to punt on their next possession, but Chris Smith turned the tide in Idaho’s favor when he picked off a Zac Champion pass at the Idaho 43-yard line.
Wichman hit Wendell Octave on the sideline for 6 yards and then connected with Komar who weaved his way down to the 2-yard line before being forced out of bounds. Bird rushed for his second touchdown of the game on the next play and Amancio’s kick made it 14-14 with 15 seconds left before halftime.
The third quarter bore a strong resemblance to the first two – error-filled. The Vandals lost one fumble; the Bulldogs gave up the ball on an interception and a fumble.
The interception – by Jaron Williams – led to the Vandals’ third score.
Williams snared the pass on the Louisiana Tech 32 and returned it 11 yards. After four straight running plays, Wichman found the end zone on a 7-yard scramble to put the Vandals up 21-14 with 4:25 left in the quarter.
A mistake worked in the Vandals’ favor in the fourth quarter.
Idaho faked a punt and gained enough yards to pick up a first down only to have it called back because of a penalty.
On the ensuing punt, Idaho jarred the ball loose and Davis pounced on it.
Although the Vandals had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Amancio with 10:07 left in the final quarter, it made it a two-possession game and that proved to be enough because the Bulldogs managed just 42 yards of total offense in the second half.
Idaho 24, La. Tech 14
UI—Bird 5 run (Amancio kick)
LTU—P.Jackson 1 run (Horwedel kick)
LTU—Franklin 11 run (Horwedel kick)
UI—Bird 2 run (Amancio kick)
UI—Wichman 7 run (Amancio kick)
UI—FG Amancio 23
|Time of Possession||30:00||30:00|
RUSHING—Idaho, Flowers 12-60, Bird 22-56, Ford 3-21, Wichman 4-5, Lumbala 1-5, Team 2-(minus 3). Louisiana Tech, Franklin 7-46, P.Jackson 10-34, Porter 6-28, Newman 1-(minus 11), Champion 3-(minus 23).
PASSING—Idaho, Wichman 14-27-1-238. Louisiana Tech, Champion 11-26-4-137.
RECEIVING—Idaho, Komar 2-101, Smith-Anderson 2-35, Haynes 2-24, Flowers 2-23, Ford 2-20, Octave 2-10, Ikharo 1-17, Bird 1-8. Louisiana Tech, Wheeler 2-52, James 2-25, Holland 2-23, Newman 2-16, Franklin 1-12, Porter 1-8, P.Jackson 1-1.