MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho, in the end, was essentially done in by Weber State kick holder Doug Lloyd.
The big play came late in the third quarter Saturday, with Weber State protecting a 27-21 lead. As Trey Tuttle simulated an approach to kicking a long field goal, Lloyd rose up with the ball from amid Idaho’s rush and ran 30 yards to the end zone untouched.
Lloyd’s score and Tuttle’s ensuing point after gave the Wildcats a 34-21 lead that proved crucial in their 41-35 win.
Weber State (3-2, 1-0 Big Sky Conference) also needed a key play while leading 34-28 with a little more than 1 minute to left. Kris Jackson’s 18-yard touchdown run capped a six-play, 60-yard drive and became bigger when Idaho freshman running back Nick Romano took the ensuing kickoff back 97 yards for a touchdown with 1:09 left.
“If we were going to have a chance, we needed to take this one back. They gave me a lane, and I was able to hit it,” Romano said.
Idaho’s onside kick attempt bounced out untouched at midfield, and Weber State ran out the clock.
Idaho (2-4, 0-2) was slow to respond as Weber State fashioned an early 13-0 lead. But the Vandals ultimately came to life, leaving Charles Akanno, whose pressure off the edge accounted for four tackles for loss, speculated about what might Idaho might have done with one last possession.
“It would have been nice,” Akanno said. “But we came up short.”
Cutrell Haywood, Idaho’s leading receiver with 10 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, echoed his teammate.
“You fight hard,” Haywood said. “But sometimes you fall short.”
Weber State brought a No. 4 national ranking and a stifling defense to Moscow. The Wildcats recovered three fumbles, but that was still barely enough to fend off the stubborn Vandals.
The Wildcats’ season statistics took a beating. Weber State had been holding opponents to just more than 16 points per game.
Idaho’s 35 points were the product of 405 yards of total offense, including 212 yards passing and 193 on the ground. The Vandals held Weber State to 386 yards – 223 rushing and 163 passing.
“We knew they were a tough, physical team, and we challenged ourselves to play with that toughness,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said.
“If that’s the No. 4 team in the country, we are not that far from being a darn good football team.”
Idaho was betrayed by special teams mistakes. In addition to his touchdown off the fake field goal, Lloyd also rushed 11 yards for a first down on a fake punt on fourth-and-2 at the Weber State 33-yard line in the third quarter. The Wildcats finished that drive with Kevin Smith’s 24-yard scoring run to lead 27-14.
“That was bad,” Petrino said. “It’s hard to win games when you give that up. We’ve got to do a better job, for sure.”
After falling behind 13-0, the Vandals got untracked in the second quarter. Haywood outfought Wildcats cornerback Eddie Heckard all the way downfield on a deep out pattern that resulted in a 29-yard reception. From the 11-yard line, Aundre Carter broke a tackle and outran two other defenders for Idaho’s first touchdown.
Idaho frustrated the Wildcats again with 4:54 to play in the first half when Trey Walker tipped a pass that Davontae Ginwright intercepted.
Carter got the Vandals near the goal on a 46-yard run on which he cut left, dipped a shoulder, continued to the sideline and fought off a tackle with a stiff-arm before being run out of bounds at the 2-yard line. Haywood got behind Heckard in the end zone and grabbed Mason Petrino’s short pass to briefly give Idaho the lead.
“He did grab my hair a couple of times,” Haywood said of Heckard. “It’s all good.”
Weber State pushed ahead 20-14 in the final minute of the half when Devon Cooley grabbed a 9-yard scoring pass from Jake Constantine.
Idaho was penalized 12 times for 114 yards, and Weber State was flagged 11 times for 99 yards.
The Wildcats also lost linebacker McKade Mitton to a targeting penalty against Petrino. Jeff Cotton, Idaho’s leading receiver, left the game before halftime with an injury after making five catches for 37 yards. Carter, the Vandals’ leading running back with 89 yards on 10 carries, also did not play in the second half.
“Football is a physical sport. Guys go down, other guys step up,” Paul Petrino said.
One stepping up was Vandals running back Dylan Thigpen, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Thigpen got his first three carries of the season against Weber State in the second half, and on one of them, he followed a sharp cut with a 20-yard burst for a touchdown. That allowed Idaho to close to within 27-21 before Lloyd ran for his score off the fake field goal.
Romano also shouldered his share of the load for Idaho with 60 yards rushing to go with 138 yards on kickoff returns, including his long touchdown that put the Vandals in position to attempt their onside kick.
“There is no way you could say we didn’t fight with them to the very end,” Paul Petrino said.
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