With little more than seven minutes remaining in Idaho’s Homecoming showdown with Louisiana Tech, grim faces ringed the Kibbie Dome field, and some in the packed crowd were filing out. Trailing by 13 points and with an offense that had sputtered all day long, the home team’s chances didn’t look good.
But then, the Vandals were never given a chance to begin with.
As if thumbing their collective noses at the naysayers, Idaho’s offense rallied and its defense stiffened. Quarterback Nathan Enderle connected in the clutch and DeMaundray Woolridge bulldogged twice into the end zone. The Vandals had the lead. Could they keep it?
The answer came when Louisiana Tech’s desperation 56-yard field goal try bounced harmlessly off the turf. Yes, yes they could — and the Dome exploded. Players, students, alumni, band members, anyone and everyone charged the field.
If the goalposts hadn’t been bolted to the wall, they probably would have come down too.
The Vandals beat the Bulldogs, 35-34, and wrote another unlikely chapter into the improbable story of Idaho’s 2009 season.
“It was awesome,” Enderle said after the game. “To get that win for our Homecoming crowd, our seventh win, I think it showed our courage.”
Idaho, which improved to 7-2 overall, 4-1 in Western Athletic Conference play, has now all but sealed its first postseason bid since 1998. The team remains undefeated in the Kibbie Dome, and will face Fresno State at home next Saturday in a nationally-televised night game. Louisiana Tech falls to 3-5, 2-3 in the WAC, and is all but eliminated from bowl contention.
“What matters is that we came out with the win,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “What this football team has done seven times now this season, is do whatever it takes to win. They’ve been down, they’ve been up, but they’ve found a way to win.”
After last week’s drubbing by Nevada, questions had been raised about how “real” the Vandals’ comeback season was. Feasting off a bewildered defense, the Wolf Pack’s Pistol and option attack hung 70 points on Idaho. The critics came out in force, tearing apart what has been the Vandals’ best performance ever as a Football Bowl Subdivision team. Idaho’s weaknesses had been exposed, they said, and they might not win a game the rest of the season.
Early in today’s game, Idaho looked dead set on proving them correct.
A 94-yard touchdown return of the opening kickoff by Justin Veltung sparked the home crowd, but after that it was all Louisiana Tech. Running, passing and scoring at will, the Bulldogs blew apart Idaho’s defense. Quarterback Ross Jenkins threw for 134 yards on 9-13 passing, while a triple-threat attack on the ground had given the Bulldogs 88 more. When the dust settled, Louisiana Tech had put up 21 unanswered points in the game’s first 12 minutes.
“We just weren’t making plays and we didn’t have our heads on straight,” defensive end Aaron Lavarias said. “We weren’t in the game like we should have been.”
In response, the Vandals’ offense managed nothing more than a pair of three-and-outs. The game had all the makings of a blowout, and Idaho appeared to be reverting to its previous — and awful — form. While the Vandals’ defense found a way to make a couple stops in the second quarter, a comeback drive deep into Bulldog territory went for naught when Enderle was intercepted in the end zone. At the half, the Vandals trailed by 14.
“You know, we had some negative plays and Louisiana Tech wasn’t doing anything we didn’t expect. We just weren’t playing very well,” Enderle admitted.
Out of the locker room, Idaho’s defense held the Bulldogs scoreless in the third quarter, while Enderle managed to hook up with Max Komar for a 32-yard touchdown strike. But Louisiana Tech punched home in the opening seconds of the fourth, giving the visitors what could have been a 14-point lead. Bulldog kicker Matt Nelson shanked the extra point, though — his first miss of the season, and one that would come back to haunt his team.
This story will be continuously updated.