He should probably just go ahead and graduate. It will never get better than this.
Roshaun Johnson is a redshirt junior. But the University of Idaho running back rushed for an epic 174 yards on 30 carries, featuring a school record six touchdowns on Idaho’s senior day, as the Vandals closed out their home season by turning back a surprisingly resolute Southern Utah, 42-24.
The Vandals improved to 3-6, 2-4 in the Big Sky Conference. Hard-luck SUU is now 1-9, 0-7 in the league.
Johnson scored a pair of touchdowns from 16 and 3 yards out before SUU got on the board when it capped a 9-play 75-yard drive with Preston Larson’s 1-yard run.
The Vandals led 28-10 at the half as Johnson scored on a pair of short runs of 2 and 1-yard, respectively. SUU was able to draw within 11 points on two occasions in the second half. In the third quarter, Idaho had a defensive breakdown and Thunderbirds’ quarterback Justin Miller found a wide-open Brandon Schenks in the end zone from 13 yards out to make it 28-17, and after Alonzo Davis picked off Vandals’ quarterback Mike Beaudry at the SUU 20-yard line and Idaho was penalized for a facemask violation, Miller scored from a yard out to open the fourth quarter and make the score 35-24.
For the game, Johnson had a long gain of 20 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Equally as impressive, he did not lose a yard all day. The Vandals stunned the Thunderbirds on the ground, rushing for 275 yards. Freshman Elisha Cummings followed Johnson with 99 yards on 13 carries. He inadvertently almost denied Johnson the school record, too. On Idaho’s final scoring drive Cummings took a toss sweep 11 yards to the Thunderbirds’ 37-yard line and followed that with a slashing run up the middle inside the 10-yard line, where SUU’s Treyson Johnson made a touchdown-saving tackle. Johnson took over from there and stepped through Aaron Romero’s attempted tackle on his way to the goal line.
Following the game, Idaho coach Paul Petrino reported the Vandals’ ebullient senior defensive lineman Rahsaan Crawford, who also plays on offense when the Vandals need to move bodies on short yardage downs, had asked Cummings after the score “did someone tell you fall down at the 2-yard-line?”
Johnson, 6-0, 235 pounds, imposed every ounce of it on the Thunderbirds, battering defenders relentlessly. Nothing characterized the effort more than what would have been a seventh touchdown had it counted. With Idaho up 35-24 early in the fourth quarter the Vandals summarily moved 70 yards in 5 plays to the Thunderbirds’ five-yard line. From there, Johnson worked his way left, stiff-arming first 270-pound Francis Bemiy then safety Akili Gray before attempting to hurdle Davis, who brought him down at the one-yard line. The Thunderbirds must have been overawed. Johnson sidestepped to the right on the next play and cruised in to score untouched. However, a holding penalty negated the touchdown.
In two plays, Johnson got the ball back to the 4-yard line for Idaho. But from there Beaudry threw an interception in the end zone, picked off by Gray.
While Johnson was pummeling the Thunderbirds, both he and Petrino were quick to praise the blocking of Idaho’s interior offensive line of Greyson Harwood, Matthew Faupusa, Logan Floyd, Beau St. John and Abe Christensen, and tight Connor Whitney and fullback Trase LeTexier.
“The whole thing is the offensive line,” said Johnson. “They were getting me to the next level.” He promised to bring “dozens of donuts” to them at practice Sunday.
For all the highlights Johnson and Idaho’s running game posted, an actual senior, Charles Akanno, did just as much as a pass rusher with 8 tackles, including 6 tackles for loss. He almost singlehandedly helped Idaho fend off the Thunderbirds midway through the fourth quarter. On back-to-back plays, Akanno beat SUU’s tackle Braxton Jones and sacked Miller. When the Thunderbirds recovered from that and converted a pair of fourth downs to get to the Idaho 5-yard line, Akanno ended the drive by forcing a fumble that Idaho’s Noah Elliss recovered.
In his final home game, Akanno returned with a flourish to the form that made him unstoppable before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in 2019.
“What a great deal for Chuck,” said Petrino. “Coming back today he looked like his old self.”
Akanno played in the 2021 spring season, but he said after the SUU game “I’ve been feeling way better. My body, overall, has got back under control…I’ve been feeling great all fall.”
Akanno acknowledged he engaged the Thunderbirds’ offensive players in conversation – in a good way. “I try to keep everything joyful,” he said. “It’s not the same when you’re not being very joyful.”
SUU defensive lineman Mana Kula might have taken that advice. On a single play in the third quarter, he got consecutive unsportsmanlike penalties for a facemask violation and taunting and was ejected.
In his five years at Idaho, Akanno never enjoyed a winning season. Over that span, the Vandals have been 17-31.
“It’s been a journey,” said Akanno. But he added “playing with all these guys has been an honor.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to be happy I could play with these guys, no matter what happened.”
Beaudry, in his final home game, threw for 217 yards on 16 of 23 passing, with the 2 interceptions.
For SUU, Miller, who lit up the Vandals for 422 passing yards and 5 touchdowns in a nail-biter last spring that Idaho won 33-32, had another productive day. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown, in addition to running for a score. Schenks was the game’s leading receiver with 92 yards on six catches, with a touchdown. Terez Traynor led Idaho with 90 yards on six catches. Senior Mekhi Stevenson followed with 45 yards on 5 catches, and Petrino said he made one of the game’s biggest plays when he grabbed a 10-yard pass at the SUU 16-yard line on fourth down to set up Idaho’s first touchdown.
The Vandals’ senior all-America linebacker Tre Walker led the way for Idaho with 12 tackles and broke up two passes. SUU’s Treyson Johnson was the game’s leading tackler with 15.
Petrino had made a point all week of insisting how important it was to send Idaho’s 13 seniors out with a win in their final home game. Johnson picked up the theme in his own postgame remarks. But he declined to entertain the thought that maybe the performance against the Thunderbirds should be his own exit.
“I do graduate this fall,” he said. “But as far as now, I’m coming back next year.”
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