Idaho and South Alabama were tied at 13 on Saturday with just under eight minutes to play when lightning struck.
Not figuratively. No player suddenly and dramatically took over the game.
Real lightning did. After a series of strikes near Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, play was suspended for two hours.
And then it got weird.
Idaho eventually prevailed in one of the strangest games its history, 29-23, after nearly seven hours –and two overtime sessions – in the Sun Belt Conference opener for both teams.
When players finally returned from the lightning delay, the teams traded a pair of lightning-quick touchdowns to send a seemingly interminable six-hour game to overtime.
In the first extra possession, both teams scored 39-yard field goals. After South Alabama’s Gavin Patterson missed a second field goal try from 43 yards and the Vandals were poised to attempt to win, another lightning strike halted the game a second time.
After a half-hour delay, play resumed once again. Idaho (2-2, 1-0) gave the ball to Isaiah Saunders on four straight carries. He took the third one 22 yards to the 2, and the final one into the end zone to lift the Vandals to victory.
Idaho evened its record at 2-2 in the Sun Belt opener for both teams. South Alabama fell to 1-3.
The Vandals led off overtime and scored on Cade Coffey’s field goal, made possible by holder AJ Woodin corralling a low snap. After the Jags matched the kick they took possession and the Vandals defense forced them to go three and out and Patterson missed the field goal try.
Following the first lightning delay, South Alabama (1-3, 0-1) capped a three-play, 40-yard drive when Xavier Johnson scored on a 34-yard burst. The Vandals answered as Matt Linehan found Alfonso Onuwor in the corner of the end zone on a 10-yard pass with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Before the weather delays, turnovers and penalties had the greatest influence on the course of events. In the third quarter, the Jaguars’ Malcolm Biggs intercepted Linehan and returned it 80 yards for a score – only to have the touchdown wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty.
Two series later, linebacker Darrell Songy picked off a tipped Linehan pass and brought it back for a score – but a holding call against South Alabama negated that interception.
Idaho got in a hole early when Saunders fumbled on the second play. The Jags capped a 28-yard, eight-play drive on Xavier Johnson’s 2-yards score.
Leading 10-3, South Alabama lost another opportunity to put some distance between itself and Idaho, when Vandals freshman linebacker Christian Elliss picked off Dallas Davis at the Jags’ 36. A late hit on the play put the ball on the 8, and two plays later Aaron Duckworth scored for the Vandals from six yards out to tie it at 10.
The teams traded field goals to complete the scoring before the lightning struck.
Linehan completed 23 of 38 pass attempts for 273 yards with a touchdown. Jacob Sannon had 10 catches for 103 yards and Saunders gained 63 yards on 18 carries.
Johnson rushed for 155 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns for South Alabama.
Idaho passed the first lightning delay eating sandwiches, according to coach Paul Petrino. For the second one “we talked about what plays to run in overtime to try to get it in.”
“A game like that just really comes down to toughness…Our guys just kept fighting and fighting.”
Vandals linebacker Kaden Elliss had the last word. “Aw, man. That was a crazy game.”
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