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Idaho uses second-half surge to avoid Central Washington’s upset bid in 41-31 victory

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 7, 2019

MOSCOW, Idaho – If the ever-expanding Big Sky Conference is still looking for members, it could do worse than trying to convince Central Washington to make the move up to the Football Championship Subdivision.

In the end, brute force won out, and hammering Roshaun Johnson at CWU in the fourth quarter allowed Idaho to take time off the clock and pull away for a 41-31 nonconference win against the Wildcats who more than upheld the honor of Division II and played Idaho to a virtual standstill through three quarters.

Johnson rushed for 15 of his 18 carries and 94 of his 111 yards in the fourth quarter.

But the outcome wasn’t truly decided until Idaho’s Aundre Carter, the game’s leading runner with 123 yards on 17 carries, broke free for a 27-yard gain and his second touchdown with 2:44 remaining.

“I remember Coach being in my head: ‘Hit it. Hit it hard.’ That’s what I did,” Carter said of the run.

CWU (0-1) had cut Idaho’s lead to three points midway through the fourth quarter with its second touchdown off a pass from the backfield. JoJo Hillel scored on a 39-yard pass reception from Tony Archie, who lined up as a running back and got the ball on a reverse.

In the second quarter, the roles had been swapped. Hillel launched a pass after faking a sweep, and Archie hauled it in on the sideline and took it 60 yards for CWU’s first score.

“People who are used to winning know how to play good,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said of the Wildcats.

“We expected a hard-fought, tough game. They do everything you’re supposed to.”

The Vandals (1-1) may have found a starting quarterback. Senior Mason Petrino completed 23 of 30 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 10 times for 26 yards.

In his brief stint in the first half, junior Colton Richardson was 2 for 5 for 9 yards with an interception, but Paul Petrino said both quarterbacks will play next week when the Vandals travel to Wyoming.

A tentatively played first quarter by both teams left Idaho with a 3-0 lead on a 20-yard Cade Coffey field goal. After taking a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter on Carter’s 2-yard touchdown run, the Vandals were outplayed through most of the rest of the period by the Wildcats.

Hillel-to-Archie put the Wildcats on the scoreboard early in the second quarter, and Archie stung the Vandals again, almost immediately. Idaho’s Jeff Cotton fumbled the kickoff following CWU’s initial score while being tacked by Donald Wilkinson. Michael Roots recovered for the Wildcats at the Idaho 24. One play later, Wildcats quarterback Canon Racanelli found Archie in the end zone.

The Wildcats improved that 14-10 lead to 17-10 after Idaho’s Richardson was intercepted by Tyren Sams. CWU concluded the ensuing possession with Gavin Todd’s 36-yard field goal.

Idaho escaped that shaky turn of events, though, and avoided going into the half trailing when Cotton, at the goal line and covered by Sams, spun to grab Mason Petrino’s 19-yard throw.

Going into halftime tied at 17 “changed the attitude a lot,” Paul Petrino said. “I just tried to be real positive at halftime.”

The Vandals scored on their first possession of the second half when Johnson followed Logan Floyd’s block and scored from 13 yards out, to take a 24-17 lead.

But the Wildcats answered quickly. Roots kept a drive alive on fourth-and-1 at the Vandals 23. He attacked the left side of Idaho’s defense for 11 yards.

Then Racanelli connected with tight end Samuel Sanchez, defended by Vandals linebacker Christian Elliss. Sanchez brought down the ball in the back of the end zone. After a review, the touchdown call stood and the score was tied at 24.

Idaho built a lead that lasted as the third quarter was coming to a close. Mason Petrino earned a first down the hard way, after receiving a hit to the head by CWU linebacker Fred Feleti.

“I might lead the nation in targetings,” Petrino said afterward.

“That’s why I’ve got a helmet on.”

After a moment on his back on the turf, Petrino collected himself and hit Cotton in the corner of the end zone with a 19-yard fade. Cotton had a big game for the Vandals with 16 catches for 145 yards and with two TDs.

The long fade is becoming the signature play between Mason Petrino and Cotton.

“That’s a huge weapon for us when we can connect on those,” Petrino said.

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