A giant breakthrough in offensive production and a halftime lead couldn’t help the young Idaho football team hold off the two-time defending MAC Champion Northern Illinois as the Vandals fell to the Huskies 45-35 this past Saturday in Moscow
“We showed great, great improvement,” said Coach Paul Petrino about the performance of the team. “But I’m used to winning. I’m disappointed.”
The Vandals, who had only scored 17 total points in their first two games, found the end-zone early in the first quarter on a 75 yard drive spanning 10 plays and ending with a one-yard run by James Baker. Only the third opening drive score for Idaho in 15 games, Northern Illinois answered back midway through the quarter on a five-yard run by quarterback Jordan Lynch following the Huskies recovering a fumble lost by Idaho quarterback Josh McCain.
With the game tied, Idaho scored back-to-back touchdowns, first on a 27-yard pass from quarterback Chad Chalich to Richard Montgomery and then on a 37-yard pass from Chalich to Baker. The 21-7 lead at that point in the game was the first time in 10 games that the Vandals had led an opponent by 14 or more points. The two teams traded touchdowns, leaving Idaho with a 28-21 lead going into the half.
The lead wouldn’t last long for the Vandals as the third quarter brought with it a stall in offensive movement. NIU outgained Idaho 311 to 106 in total yard and scored twice, one of which was a 61-yard rush by Lynch. The Vandal defense did hold their own during the quarter to a certain extent, forcing the Huskies to fumble the ball twice.
Down by a touchdown going into the fourth quarter, Idaho was able to tie the game on another one-yard run by Baker. Unfortunately for the Vandals, the scoring would end there as NIU pulled away with a field goal and additional touchdown as the Idaho offensive turned the ball over on a late fumble and two failed fourth down conversions.
The 35 points scored by the Vandals was the highest in eleven games, but the overall performance came at a price as the Vandals committed three turnovers that all came as a result of fumbles. The Vandals have fumbled the ball eight times in their first three games, six of which are attributed to Chalich and McCain.
“That’s the difference,” Petrino said. “If we don’t do that, we have a great chance to win. You can’t fumble three times against a good team and have a chance to win.”
Chalich finished the day with 240 yards passing on 15 of 26 passing, while McCain was one-for-one for 11 yards with 39 rushing yards. Baker led the Vandal backs in rushing yards with 73 while wide-out Dezmon Epps led all receivers with 110 yards. Epps became only the fourth Vandal to record a 100+ yard receiving game in the last three seasons for Idaho.
The loss marks the sixth time since Idaho moved to Division I-A in 1997 that they have opened a season 0-3.
Idaho will travel across the border this coming weekend to take on rival Washington State for the first time since 2007, looking to avoid their second 0-4 start in two seasons.