MOSCOW, Idaho – This was a moment to savor. Matt Linehan knew it, so he hopped on the trainer’s table and danced. Kevin Shelton knew it as well, so he snatched a large video camera from the sideline and acted as if he were documenting the playing of the Idaho fight song for posterity.
It would have been a fitting scene to capture.
The afterglow of a 37-12 win over Georgia State on Saturday was sweet for the Vandals. Not just because they punctuated their best season in 18 years with another runaway victory. But also because all of the struggles that proceeded it.
“Really, nobody outside of this building never thought we could do what we did this year,” coach Paul Petrino said. “Nobody did, and it was great to show everybody wrong.”
The Vandals (8-4, 6-2 in the Sun Belt) parlayed six Georgia State turnovers – and plenty of other mistakes from the Panthers – into their fourth straight win in front an announced crowd of 11,242 at the Kibbie Dome on senior day.
Idaho will officially know its bowl fate today, but multiple reports indicate they’ll take part in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, on Dec. 22 in Boise.
The Vandals have played crisper football this year, but they didn’t need their best in their home finale. Georgia State self-destructed in pretty much every way imaginable.
The Panthers (3-9, 2-6) missed both of their point-after attempts and a 25-yard field goal, had a punt blocked for a touchdown and muffed another punt that Idaho recovered – one of their five turnovers before the fourth quarter.
The Vandals cashed in on GSU’s first two turnovers to go up 14-6. And they tacked on Austin Rehkow field goals after the next two takeaways.
“Throughout the week, we knew if got on them early, we could finish them late,” said Linehan, Idaho’s junior quarterback. “And I think all of those turnovers started to accumulate, and you could see that other side start to quit a little bit.”
Linehan passed for just 126 yards, but he tossed three touchdowns in the first half – all to seniors who were honored before the game. Callen Hightower reeled in the first TD, and then Linehan connected with trusted tight ends/receivers Trent Cowan and Deon Watson.
“I feel like the team really rallied around the seniors and a lot of guys really stepped up – seniors and even younger guys,” said Watson, a Coeur d’Alene native. “But it just feels good. I’ve been here for a while and just to go out on a win, it’s a blessing.”
Idaho was outgained 357-287 and didn’t get the defensive pressure it has in recent weeks. But its defense and special teams were opportunistic.
Sophomore linebacker Kaden Elliss started off the turnover parade by scooping up a fumble from GSU quarterback Conner Manning and rumbling 40 yards to set up Idaho’s first score. Jayshawn Jordan contributed two interceptions, and Elliss also got a late pick to match Jordan with five INTs on the year.
“I told (Ellis) on the sideline he’s like a ball magnet,” Jordan said. “It’s like the ball just always seems to find him.”
After the game, the Vandals took their time belting out the UI fight song with the few thousand that remained at the dome. It was a reward, Linehan said, for the Vandals’ long-suffering fans and for the players.
“It’s really amazing just to see it all come together,” he said, “and I couldn’t think of a more special moment than singing that fight song one more time in the dome with these seniors.”
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