LEWISTON – Callen Hightower felt comfortable in Idaho’s first scrimmage of the spring season.
The senior is a year removed from arriving on campus via Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College and is expected to lead skill players in what’s anticipated to be a potent aerial attack in the Sun Belt Conference.
It was on display with his team-high 11 catches for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He even completed a pass to Reuben Mwhela on an 11-yard reverse pass.
Maybe it was the soft grass of Lewiston High’s Bengal Field making Hightower so comfortable in torching the Idaho secondary.
“It feels a little better getting tackled out here than on that turf,” he said.
Idaho entertained well more than 100 fans with a passing display, even with starting quarterback Matt Linehan paraded up and down the field on crutches with his left foot in a boot.
Redshirt sophomore Jake Luton threw for 571 yards and seven touchdowns, connecting on 36 of 64 passes with two interceptions off of deflections.
Coeur d’Alene native Gunnar Amos added 213 yards on 13 completions for a touchdown.
Luton saw action in six games last season, including a start in a loss at Arkansas State in relief of an injured Linehan.
“Everything is just slowing down a little bit,” Luton said. “I’m able to pay more attention to the defenses and not so much on the route concepts or where I’m supposed to go with the ball. I already know it like the back of my hand, so now I look at the defense, I see where I’m supposed to go with the ball and it’s helping me out a lot.”
The 6-foot-6 quarterback hit freshman running back Denzal Brantley on a swing pass down the right side of the field for a 53-yard score on fourth down. Idaho coach Paul Petrino ripped into his defense after the play, believing the defensive call was perfectly suited to stop it.
“That’s unacceptable. We already knew it. That was a dagger,” defensive lineman Tueni Lupeamanu said. “We should be off the field, it’s fourth down. A lot of teams go for it, especially in our league. We have to be ready for anything, we let each other down.”
It was a disappointing play considering the defense seemed to have the run of play later in the scrimmage. The unit recorded eight sacks in 88 dropbacks from Idaho quarterbacks, and even the defensive line participated in the parade of 16 pass deflections.
“I think at times we saw some guys flying around,” Petrino said. “I saw Tony (Lashley) flying around, Ed (Hall) flying around at times. Tueni had a great day. I saw Jayshawn (Jordan) making some tackles.”
Petrino and players stuck around after the scrimmage to sign autographs for fans in the valley. The event was sponsored in part by Vandal Scholarship Fund members in Lewiston.
“I thought it was great. I thought it was great to come down here. We’ve got some really good supporters down here,” Petrino said. “I’m looking forward afterward to spending time with them. Giving autographs to little kids. I thought it was a great event.”
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