MOSCOW, Idaho – With a considerable amount riding on the outcome, as it is in contention for a Big Sky Conference title, sixth-ranked Sacramento State visits Idaho on Senior Day.
Saturday’s game follows the Vandals’ disappointing loss at Montana, and Idaho has gone home to recover.
The Vandals (4-6, 2-4 Big Sky) are 4-1 at home this year and 14-7 in the Kibbie Dome the past four seasons.
Idaho has two games remaining to validate a season that has come up short on expectations.
“The talent is very even, very close,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said of the matchup with the Hornets. “It is a game that will come down to execution, maintaining possession of the ball.”
For Sacramento State’s seniors, there is also an opportunity to repay Idaho for a 28-6 loss in Moscow – in the Vandals’ final season as a Football Bowl Subdivision team in 2017 – that was closer than the score suggested.
Idaho’s leading rusher, Aundre Carter (601 yards and seven touchdowns on 106 carries), left the Montana game with a leg injury but should be available against Sacramento State, Petrino said. Leading receiver Jeff Cotton (70 receptions for 911 yards and five touchdowns), a senior, was also hurt against the Grizzlies and is less likely to return.
Among Idaho’s 11 seniors, the most notable is probably two-time All-America guard Noah Johnson. He will be tasked with leading the Vandals’ offensive line against a quick and explosive defensive front.
“We have a very quick offensive line, as well,” Vandals running back Dylan Thigpen said.
Senior quarterback Mason Petrino will also play his final home game. He has rushed for 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns and has thrown for 1,613 yards and 11 touchdowns, with nine interceptions. His backup for much of the year, Colton Richardson, a junior, injured an ankle in Idaho’s homecoming win against Idaho State on Oct. 19, but Paul Petrino said Richardson may be available for at least one of Idaho’s last two games.
A young Vandals defense is losing several senior starters in the secondary, including cornerback Lloyd Hightower (30 tackles, two interceptions) and safety Sedrick Thomas (23 tackles, one interception). Davontae Ginwright played this season with Idaho as a graduate transfer at safety. In six games, he accounted for 20 tackles and an interception.
Idaho’s defense will have to stop a potent Hornets offense. Elijah Dotson was an All-Big Sky Conference running back last year. His numbers are down this season, but he has rushed for 560 yards and five touchdowns. Quarterback Kevin Thomson has thrown for 2,423 yards and 24 touchdowns, with six interceptions, and Pierre Williams (869 receiving yards, seven touchdowns) is one of the Big Sky’s top pass catchers.
After missing last season with a serious knee injury – and with no guarantee he would recover – Thigpen, a junior, is sensitive to the ends of careers. He finally saw his own take off with 211 rushing yards in five games, a 4.8 yards per carry average, and he has another year to improve on those numbers.
“It’s the most important game of the year,” Thigpen said. “Senior night. There’s nothing to do but win this game.”
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