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Idaho Vandals open 2017 football season with 28-6 win over Sacramento State

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 31, 2017, 11:10 p.m.

MOSCOW, Idaho —The Idaho Vandals survived an aggravating Sacramento State – the kind of aggravating game where Matt Linehan threw his first interception of the season before his first touchdown – but they wore down the Hornets to take their season opener, 28-6 at the Kibbie Dome on Thursday nght.

“There was not a point in that game our kids did not believe they were not going to win,” Vandals coach Paul Petrino said afterward. Some sketchy offensive line work can be improved on, as well as ball security, but a belief among his players that they would get by the stubborn Hornets is a big take away from the game for Petrino.

“Am I going to be happy watching the offensive tape tomorrow? No. But at least we won.”

Aaron Duckworth led Idaho with 142 yards rushing and contributed an invaluable second-quarter spark that got the Vandals in gear after Sacramento State kicker Devon Medeiros put the Hornets on the scoreboard first with a 52-yard field goal in the first quarter. Duckworth took a short pass from Linehan, raced to the corner and turned upfield for 48 yards, breaking three tackles.

“Duck was supposed to be protecting me. But the rule is when he stops protecting me throw it to him,” said Linehan.

“Duck’s a home run hitter. He’s liable to make a play whenever he is on the field.”

The drive concluded when Linehan sidestepped a rush and found Jacob Sannon in the middle of the end zone. A pair of defenders had drifted away from Sannon, and Linehan drilled an eight-yard pass to him. It gave the Vandals the lead 7-3, after Cade Coffey kicked the extra point.

“Honestly, I zoned out I got the ball, I thought ‘I’ve got to make a play there,’” Duckworth said. “I think I just gave everybody that energy to get going. We can win this.”

Duckworth set up Idaho’s second touchdown when he powered through a tackle for a big gain to the Hornet 35. On the next play Linehan found Reuben Mwehla was beating cornerback Dre Terrell to the corner of the end zone and launched a long scoring pass to him. The Hornets got as close as trailing 14-6 on Medeiros’ second field goal, a 23-yarder, just before the half, but Idaho was never threatened.

In the second half the Vandals added a pair of touchdowns when defensive lineman D.J. Henderson, operating as a 281-pound fullback out of an I formation, scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter and Duckworth added an 18-yard scoring run with just over six minutes left in the game.

While Idaho’s offense was slow out of the blocks, the defense exerted pressure on Sacramento State throughout the game. After Linehan was lit up on a blind side hit by George Obinna and fumbled at the five, the Vandals hurried Hornets quarterback Kevin Thomson into a pair of incomplete passes. Sacramento State had to settle for Medeiros’ second field goal.

In the second half, after Linehan threw a second interception, linebacker Tony Lashley drilled Thomson on successive plays for no gain and a five-yard loss respectively. Vandals cornerback Lloyd Hightower tackled Andre Lindsey short of a Hornets first down, and the drive ended at the 26-yard line when linebacker Kaden Elliss dropped Sacramento State running back Joseph Ajeigbe for a loss.

Overall, the Vandals rushed for 193 yards on 44 carries. Linehan completed 14 of 19 passes for 163 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a pair of picks. He had to operate under pressure frequently, much of it applied by Obinna. “He definitely left some ‘remember me’ shots. I’ll give him that,” said Linehan.

But if the Hornets from the Big Sky Conference gave Idaho an opening game test, the Vandals not only aced it but did so confidently.

Even when they were struggling early, “I think we all kind of knew it was going to click,” said Elliss. “Then Duck had that spark.”