MOSCOW, Idaho – Being held to a net 16 yards of offense in the first half and finding itself trailing 24-0 should have left Idaho demoralized against Sacramento State.
Yet the Vandals came out for the third quarter and still played with purpose. Midway through the quarter, Idaho threw a goal-line stand at the Hornets, stopping them on fourth down when Tyrese Dedmon ran down Hornets quarterback Kevin Thomson and forced a fumble.
On the change of possession, the Vandals put together a five-play scoring drive highlighted by Dylan Thigpen’s 35-yard run, and a 24-yard touchdown pass from Mason Petrino to Cutrell Haywood. On the play, Haywood unglued himself from Sacramento State’s Isaiah Butler, whose pass coverage drew an interference call that was declined when Haywood made the reception.
“We hadn’t played well at all, and we were still in the game. Then we came out and got a score, and we were really in the game,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said.
On the opening drive of the fourth quarter, Idaho faced a fourth-and-1 at its 32-yard line. Season leading rusher Aundre Carter took the handoff, but linebacker Jeremy Harris came in low on Carter’s legs and stopped him short of the first down.
“They penetrated over the guard to the play side,” Petrino said. “They took out the pulling guard, and we got beat.”
“If we could have got that, we had a chance to go down and score,” UI tight end Conner Whitney said. “That definitely changed the momentum.”
After taking over, the Hornets hammered Elijah Dodson at the Vandals four straight times. He finally scored from 5 yards out to establish the 31-7 final score.
Sacramento State used more than 5 minutes on a nine-play drive later in the period that resulted in a missed 55-yard field-goal attempt with 3:22 left.
Jack Bamis, a lightly used senior running back from Gonzaga Prep, made good use of the time to rush for 34 yards on four carries on Senior Day, so the Vandals had that small satisfaction. But the drive stalled on the Sacramento State 15-yard line.
The loss leaves the Vandals at 4-7, 2-5 in the Big Sky Conference. Sacramento State improved to 8-3 and 6-1.
“I thought we would play a lot better,” Paul Petrino said. “The bottom line is their defense whupped our offensive line. You can cut it 8,000 ways. But if you get whipped up front, you’re in trouble.”
Idaho was without starting center Logan Floyd, who was injured. He was replaced by Conner Vrba.
“I think the world of Conner Vrba. He came back and he played hard, but he hadn’t played in a long time,” Petrino said.
Vrba was not the only Vandal to have trouble with the Hornets’ rush, especially in the first half. Idaho got good pressure on Thomson, who finished the day completing 17 of 36 passes for 187 yards with an interception.
But Sacramento State got suffocating pressure on the Vandals. Idaho ran only 25 plays in the first half to Sacramento State’s 49, and the Hornets amassed 298 yards of total offense to Idaho’s 16. On 13 carries, Idaho managed minus-17 yards.
“We pride ourselves on running the ball. They definitely stopped that,” Whitney said.
Sacramento State outgained the Vandals 409-194. Idaho had 133 yards through the air, spread among a half-dozen receivers and led by Haywood with 36 yards on five receptions. But the Vandals’ season’s leading pass catcher, Jeff Cotton, missed the game after he was injured a week ago in Idaho’s loss at Montana.
Sacramento State did all of its scoring on the ground. Thomson faked a toss and ran for a 4-yard touchdown to get the Hornets on the board late in the first quarter. Dotson (4 yards) and B.J. Perkinson (22 yards) ran for scores in the second quarter.
Dodson led all rushers with 109 yards and two touchdowns.
The loss was Idaho’s last home game for 11 seniors. Paul Petrino took a moment to reflect on what they meant to Idaho’s program.
“Six are going to graduate in December,” he said. “I’m super proud of them. Everyone else is going to graduate in May. The first thing you want to get done when you go to school is to get your degree. They’ve done that.”
Members of Idaho’s 2009 Humanitarian Bowl-winning team returned to Moscow for a reunion this weekend. They were introduced at halftime. While postseason play is something the current class won’t experience, Petrino noted in recent years the seniors are 8-3 in the Kibbie Dome the past two years.
“They’ve given this school everything they’ve got,” he said.
“That senior class is really going to do good things as men.”
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