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Idaho defense shuts down Cal Poly for second straight Big Sky victory

Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino  threw for 138 yards and a touchdown against Cal Poly on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Moscow, Idaho. (Courtesy / Idaho Athletics)
Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino threw for 138 yards and a touchdown against Cal Poly on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Moscow, Idaho. (Courtesy / Idaho Athletics)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Cal Poly came into the Kibbie Dome on Saturday with a vintage triple-option attack that lacked only oversized shoulder pads and tearaway jerseys to be right out of 1979.

After about a quarter getting used to it, Idaho went all retro on defense, denying the Mustangs big plays around the end and pursuing relentlessly. The Vandals gave up merely a first-quarter field goal and a late fourth-quarter touchdown in a 21-9 win.

Aundre Carter had a monster game for the Vandals, running for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Jeff Cotton took advantage of being primarily covered by linebackers to get free across the middle for five catches for 65 yards and an Idaho score.

Linebacker Christian Elliss led the Vandals (4-5, 2-3 Big Sky) with 13 tackles. He provided the pass rush that harried Jalen Hamler into throwing inadvertently to Idaho cornerback Lloyd Hightower, who made a leaping interception on the sideline with 1 minute, 48 seconds to play. It was the Mustangs’ last gasp.

Idaho coach Paul Petrino said the key to stopping the Mustangs’ option was winning one-on-one battles. The Vandals did that, holding Cal Poly (2-7, 1-5) to 242 yards –145 on the ground and 97 passing.

The triple option is a running offense, but Carter outgained the entire Cal Poly team on the ground. In the process, on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter, he blasted through the tackle of Mustangs safety Kevin Howell and continued 37 yards for Idaho’s first touchdown. In the third quarter, he battered the Mustangs on three straight carries from 14 yards out for the Vandals’ second score.

“The offensive line was blocking for me,” Carter said.

Idaho extended its lead on a drive that began near the end of the third quarter and finished in the fourth. The big plays were quarterback Mason Petrino eluding Kitu Humphrey’s tackle and racing 7 yards for first down on fourth-and-6 at the Mustangs’ 30-yard line, and Petrino connecting with Cotton over the middle for a 22-yard score when Cotton outran the coverage of Cal Poly linebacker Nik Navarro.

“That was the biggest play he made of the day,” Paul Petrino said of his son’s run that kept the drive alive.

The touchdown that concluded it gave Idaho enough of a cushion to withstand Cal Poly’s best shot, a 55-yard pass from Hamler to J.J. Koski that gave the Mustangs the ball on the Idaho 7-yard line and allowed Hamler to carry for the game’s final points. Koski accounted for all of Hamler’s passing yards with four catches. The Mustangs attempted just 12 passes.

Mason Petrino hit on 13 of 22 attempts for 138 yards for Idaho.

Idaho’s impressive defensive effort was keyed in large measure by the play of defensive ends Leonick Tamba and Kayode Rufai. Tamba finished with seven tackles, including 2 1/2 for loss, and Rufai added five tackles, a half-sack and a tackle for loss.

“They changed the game,” Elliss said of his teammates. “They did a great job wreaking havoc.”

Tamba filled in at buck for Charles Akanno, who was lost for the season with an Achilles tendon injury suffered against Idaho State.

Like Ellis, Tamba was dogged in running down Hamler and Cal Poly’s leading rushers Drew Hernandez (66 yards on nine carries) and fullback Duy Tran-Sampson (56 yards on 17 carries).

“He’s playing awesome,” Paul Petrino said of Tamba. “He’s really stepping up and playing well. It’s great to see. There’s not a nicer kid ever.”

The Vandals take on Montana in Missoula on Saturday.

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