MOSCOW, Idaho – One could argue that the festive postgame mob scene at midfield should have never unfolded, that the Idaho football team had no business turning a ho-hum performance into a heart-pounding Halloween thriller.
But two months into an astonishing revival, the charm-filled Vandals have long since said goodbye to old habits. They’re bound to make things entertaining – no matter the circumstances and especially in front of home fans.
Trailing by 13 points with less than 6 minutes left on Saturday, Idaho once again found a way to secure a Western Athletic Conference victory. UI flipped on the switch just in time, scoring on a 2-yard push into the end zone from DeMaundray Woolridge with 52 seconds left to nip Louisiana Tech 35-34.
The Bulldogs’ Matt Nelson, who botched what turned out to a critical extra point earlier, watched his 56-yard field-goal attempt flutter wide left as time expired. The two missed boots helped give Idaho (7-2, 4-1) what appears to be enough victories for a bowl berth, though nothing is guaranteed.
“It’s certainly closer to reality,” coach Robb Akey said. “We can’t rest, though. We can’t bank on saying seven’s enough. So much matters on how the season ends up for everybody.”
One thing the Vandals have going for them is that two of their final three games are at home, where they’re unbeaten and riding a huge wave of momentum. They’ll entertain Fresno State, also 4-1 in league play, Saturday night.
Idaho’s latest manic triumph came after a mostly disjointed performance with 15,236 homecoming fans on hand. UI fell behind by 14 points twice following Justin Veltung’s 94-yard opening kickoff return, with the defense appearing helpless and the offense out of sorts.
Once it finally looked like the Vandals had found a rhythm, they went through three possessions were they fumbled after a perfectly executed fake punt, missed a 47-yard field goal and gave Louisiana Tech (3-5, 2-3) the ball on an interception.
But the defense tightened at the right moment, forcing three Louisiana Tech punts in the fourth quarter to set the stage for a revived offense to put together two touchdown drives in the final minutes. Both were capped by short Woolridge runs.
“I think it shows a lot of courage to come back and play and keep going even though we started off so slow,” said Nathan Enderle, who found Daniel Hardy over the middle for a 21-yard reception to set up the winning TD.
After Woolridge put the Vandals on top, the Bulldogs – without starting tailback Daniel Porter and explosive receiver Phillip Livas to injury – marched to Idaho’s 39 with 1 second left.
Nelson then came out for what would have been a career-long field goal, but it was left from the start.
The miss sparked a raucous celebration at the midfield Vandal logo, with players, coaches and fans bouncing up and down in unison.
“It feels great,” defensive end Aaron Lavarias said. “I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end it, except us maybe winning by 50.”
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