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Sun Belt roundup: Big mistakes hurt Vandals in loss to South Alabama

UPDATED: Sat., Nov. 7, 2015

It may be cliché but in the case of the Idaho Vandals Saturday night at South Alabama, it rang true – three plays.

Three plays can make all the difference and in Idaho’s 52-45 loss to the Jaguars in Mobile, Alabama, it was a kickoff returned 100 yards for a touchdown, a fumbled kickoff return deep in their own territory that led to a score, and a blocked punt that also led to a USA score.

“I can’t believe it,” Coach Paul Petrino said after the game. “I really thought we had a great game play. We came out and executed it really well early on both offensive and defensively.”

Actually, through the first two quarters then, and Petrino probably said it best, there were “all those goofy things.”

The result was a complete momentum switch to the Jaguars and the second heart-breaking loss in as many weeks.

“I told them before the game,” Petrino said, “no matter what happens, let’s go out there and give it everything we’ve got. Lay it on the line. We’ll either be happy or we’ll be crushed. We’re crushed.”

The bright spots would be senior running back Elijhaa Penny with his third successive game of 100 or more yards (135); sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan with his tird game of more than 300 yards passing (307), and junior tight end Deon Watson with seven catches for 109 yards and junior receiver Callen Hightower with nine receptions for 85 yards.

Defensively, senior end Quinton Bradley and freshman linebacker Kaden Elliss each had nine tackles and Elliss had 2.5 tackles for losses totaling 12 yards. And, junior kicker/punter averaged 47 yards on five punts.

Rehkow opened the scoring for Idaho with a 24-yard field goal with 10:49 to play in the first. His kick capped a nine-play, 68-yard drive and was the seventh time in nine games that the Vandals’ first score was a field goal.

A 10-yard sack by Kaden Elliss put the Jaguars in a big hole on third down on USA’s first drive. An incomplete pass followed and USA was forced to punt. An illegal block in the back by Idaho on the return gave the Vandals the ball at their own nine to start their second drive.

Deon Watson scored for the Vandals on their next possession with a 10-yard hookup with Linehan in a drive that featured 27-yard passes to Hightower and Mwehla, as well as a two-yard reception by center Steve Matlock who grabbed the ball as it bounced off the helmets and shoulder pads of the defense. The 10-play, 91-yard drive, capped by Rehkow’s PAT kick, put Idaho up 10-0 with 5:18 to go in the first.

Penny scored on a one-yard run to cap the Vandals’ next scoring drive (nine plays, 80 yards) as the Vandals went up 17-0 with Rehkow’s PAT kick with 11:22 to go in the first half. Deon Watson pulled in a 41-yard pass from Linehan to highlight the drive with the fourth-longest catch of the year for the Vandals.

Idaho was forced to punt on its next possession but this went the Vandals’ way when Josh Magee fumbled the return and Kendrick Trotter pounced on it at the Jaguars’ 22. Linehan went to Watson again two plays later for a 17-yard scoring play. Rehkow’s kick made it 24-0 with 6:51 remaining in the second quarter.

After a 41-yard kickoff to start their next drive, the Jaguars drove to within one-football length of scoring before being stopped on fourth down by the Vandals, who took over with 2:30 to go in the half. They were forced to punt but Rehkow’s 49-yard boot pushed South Alabama back to its own 42. This time, though, the Jaguars made their way to the end zone with Marvin Shinn pulling in a six-yard pass from Cody Clements. With 1:20 to go in the half, Idaho led 24-7.

The Jaguars quickly made to 24-14 with Xavier Johnson’s 100-yard kickoff return to start the second half. The Vandals were forced to punt on their next possession but Rehkow’s 54-yard punt pinned the Jaguars at their own two, which began a succession of punt trading. That ended when Kevin Shelton recovered a fumbled USA punt return but the Jaguars quickly turned the tables when Devon Earl recovered Penny’s fumble and returned it 57 yards to cut Idaho’s lead to 24-21 with 4:19 to go in the third.

The tide continued to turn for the Jaguars when Jalen Thompson blocked Rehkow’s punt and Margo Reed returned it to the Idaho 6. Clements ran in untouched from the six to put USA up 28-24 with 3:08 to go in the third.

Penny scored the Vandals’ first TD of the half when he rolled in from the 19 – a run that boosted Idaho to a 31-28 lead and gave put Penny at more than 100 yards rushing for the third successive drive. Rehkow’s kick capped a seven-play, 67-yard drive.

USA responded with a 16-yard TD pass from Clements to Gerald Everett to start the fourth quarter. With 13:14 to play in the game, the Jaguars led 35-31. Insult was added to injury on the ensuing kickoff when Mwehla fumbled and DeMarrion Buford-Hughes recovered for South Alabama at the Idaho nine. After a penalty pushed the Jaguars back to the 29, USA settled for a 41-yard field goal. With 11:47 to play, South Alabama led 38-31.

Reed picked off Linehan at the USA 16 to end Idaho’s next drive with 9:43 on the game clock. A 50-yard pickup by Xavier Johnson moved the ball into Vandal territory at the Idaho 34. Six plays later, Clements ran in from the eight for the 45-31 lead with 7:42 left in the game.

The Vandals responded quickly when Linehan kept the ball for an 11-yard score to cap a six-play, 57-yard drive that used just 1:59. Aaron Duckworth helped set up the TD with a 40-yard kickoff return – Idaho’s longest of the season.

Louisiana-Lafayette 23, Georgia State 21: Stevie Artigue kicked a 21-yard field goal in the fourth quarter after a failed Panthers fake punt and the Ragin’Cajuns won in Atlanta.

Punter Wil Lutz, who missed two field-goal attempts, tried to pass on fourth-and-5 from the Georgia State 24, but the ball was caught by defensive end Tevin Jones for a loss. ULL (4-4, 3-1 Sun Belt) declined the illegal touching penalty and reached the Panthers 5 before Artigue’s field goal with 6:59 remaining.

Savion Brown’s interception ended a final drive for Georgia State (2-6, 1-3) with 1:58 left.

Artigue kicked a career-long 49-yarder with 1:30 left in the third to get the Ragin’ Cajuns within 21-20.

Georgia State’s Nick Arbuckle threw three touchdown passes, the final one a 3-yarder to Donovan Harden for a 21-17 lead in the third. He also had two touchdown throws to Keith Rucker.

Al Riles had 103 yards receiving with a TD for Louisiana-Lafayette.

Troy 51, Louisiana-Monroe 14: Brandon Silvers threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns and the Trojans routed the Warhawks in Troy, Alabama.

Silvers threw two touchdown passes in the first-quarter as Troy built a 27-14 lead and the Trojans defense blanked Louisiana-Monroe the rest of the way.

Garrett Smith was 23 of 39 passing for 257 yards and two touchdowns for the Warhawks (1-8, 0-5 Sun Belt), but was intercepted twice. His first-quarter fumble was returned 27 yards for a touchdown, and LaMarcus Farmer picked off a Smith pass in the second quarter and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.

Silvers threw a pair of touchdown passes to Emanuel Thompson in the second quarter as Troy (3-6, 2-3) fashioned a 48-14 lead by halftime.

Brandon Burks and Bryan Holmes each caught first-quarter touchdown passes, and Burks carried 19 times for 107 yards. Silvers completed 22 of his 33 pass attempts.

New Mexico State 31, Texas State 21: Nick Jeanty threw for two TDs, Larry Rose III ran for 207 yards and two scores and the Aggies rallied to beat the Bobcats in San Marcos, Texas.

Trailing 14-10 at halftime, Jeanty hit Clayton Granch with a 1-yard scoring pass on the Aggies’ opening drive of the second half.

The Bobcats (2-6, 1-3 Sun Belt) struck back with a 21-yard TD pass from Tyler Jones to Robert Lowe early in the fourth quarter for a 21-17 lead.

On the next possession, Leahy put together a 15-play, 78-yard drive capped by Rose’s 2-yard plunge and the Aggies (1-8, 1-4) led 24-21. After forcing Texas state to punt, Leahy hit Rose in the flat on the next possession and Rose raced 77 yards for the score.

Jeanty was 24 of 45 for 297 yards passing.

Jones ran for two TDs and was 21 of 36 for 287 yards passing with two interceptions, each grabbed by Jacob Nwangwa.

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