ATLANTA—In its final game Idaho got a glimpse of the season it hoped to have.
Colton Richardson threw for 228 yards and a touchdown; senior running back Aaron Duckworth ran for 113 yards, a touchdown and a 1,025-yard rushing season; and the Vandals forced four turnovers to beat Georgia State 24-10.
Idaho concludes the year 4-8, 3-5 in the Sun Belt Conference as the Vandals won their final Football Bowl Subdivision and Sun Belt game. Idaho returns to the Big Sky Conference next season after 22 years as an FBS team.
The Vandals this year had a goal of improving on last season’s 9-4 record but lost five one-possession games by a total of 24 points.
Against the Panthers in Atlanta, however, almost everything went their way. After Georgia State got on the scoreboard first on Glenn Smith’s 14-yard touchdown run, Idaho answered immediately with a five-play, 75-yard drive. It featured a 34-yard pass from Richardson to Kaden Elliss, three straight completions to Jacob Sannon and Duckworth’s one-yard scoring run.
In the second quarter, after Jalen Hoover killed a Panthers drive with an interception at the Idaho 26-yard line, the Vandals took the lead when Alfonso Onunwor took a short pass from Richardson and broke two tackles on the way to a 65-yard touchdown. It was one of four catches he made for 100 yards.
The Vandals held the lead the rest of the way.
Georgia State closed to 14-10 on Brandon Wright’s 28-yard field goal. But in the third quarter Idaho denied the Panthers twice to ensure they never got momentum. The Vandals’ Tevin Duke recovered a Georgia State fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half. Idaho used the possession to push its lead to 17-10 on Cade Coffey’s 28-yard field goal. On the next series, linebacker Ed Hall forced Panthers running back Demarcus Kirk to fumble on the Georgia State 38-yard line, and Hoover snatched it up for the Vandals. Idaho completed the scoring early in the fourth quarter, capping an eight-play 80-yard drive with Isaiah Saunders’ two-yard touchdown run.
Penny Hart, the Sun Belt’s leading receiver, had three catches for 72 yards in the first half for the Panthers, but he did not play most of the last two quarters. In his absence, Tamir Jones led Georgia State with six catches for 82 yards. Panthers quarterback Conner Manning was the game’s leading passer, completing 27 of 44 throws for 271 yards.
Junior linebacker Tony Lashley led an outstanding Idaho defensive performance. His 16 tackles against the Panthers gave him 123 tackles for the season. He had two tackles for loss and forced a fumble. “It was fun. The last ride,” he said. Being able to play with a lead in the second half allowed Idaho’s defense to pressure the Panthers, Lashley added. “Our offense put us in a winning situation. (Georgia State) got out of their game plan and had to throw the ball a lot…The defense started teeing off.”
Aikeem Coleman created havoc on the defensive line. He had a pair of sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss among his seven hits.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino said after a season of near misses the win against Georgia State was a fitting conclusion to the careers of the Vandals seniors.
“I’m super happy for them. They get to go out on this note.”
Even as close losses piled up, the Vandals kept pressing, Petrino said. “Our guys have shown up to practice every week. They’ve grinder every week. “We were five plays away from flipping the record.”