Petrino falls just short of signature first-win

Even though Idaho dropped Paul Petrino’s home opener Saturday afternoon, the day can still ultimately be called a success — just don’t say that to Petrino.

The Vandals came into Saturday as 28-point underdogs to Orange Bowl runner-ups Northern Illinois but it was the Huskies who had to rally back from behind in the second half to escape the upset and pull out of Moscow with a 45-35 victory.

Though Paul Petrino wanted nothing to do with moral victories. It was Idaho that jumped out to a 21-7 first half lead and led 28-21 at halftime. Northern Illinois and its Heisman contending quarterback Jordan Lynch went on a 24-7 run in the second half to down Idaho.

“I’m a winner, I’m used to winning,” Petrino said. “I’m never going to walk off the field after a loss and be happy.”

Petrino’s comments after that statement backed up that mentality. He fully expected to win that football game, and Idaho certainly had its chances to do so. But three untimely lost fumbles and getting gashed on a couple of big plays gave Northern Illinois all it needed to get out of Moscow with a win.

“We can’t fumble, and that’s really the difference in the game,” Petrino said. “If we don’t do that then we have a great opportunity to win. That’s a good football team, you can’t fumble three times and think you’re going to win.”

Petrino was balancing the fine line between realizing the radical progression his team has made from week two to week three and also maintaining that Idaho should have won. As evidenced by this comment: “I’m going to watch that tape tonight, tomorrow, there’s going to be a whole lot of guys I’m going to be real proud of, laid their heart out on the line. What I told in there was…there (could have been some guys) who didn’t, there might be four plays where they didn’t lay it on the line. But those four plays might be the difference in the game. You don’t know, you don’t know what the play is. That’s why you can’t give in, you have to have courage, and strength and fight every single play. Because you don’t know which play is going to be the difference in the game.

“We’re getting better every week, but just pull out a gun and shoot me in the head if I’m every happy with losing. I’m not ever going to be happy with losing.”

The bottom line, though, is that an Idaho offense that had two touchdowns all season scored four in the first half alone, and five in the game alone. The Vandals scored on their very first drive in the game and at one point in the first half scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions.

A lot of that had to do with the play of quarterback Chad Chalich and running backs James Baker and Richard Montgomery.

“I thought (the quarterbacks) played at times really well, and at other times not good enough, and when you lose. If we’re going to win, we just have to keep improvement. It’s definitely not all on the quarterbacks, it’s everybody, offense is all 11 games. They showed great improvement, both of them.”

Baker had a career day, scoring three total touchdowns and rushing for 73 yards. He also had a 37-yard touchdown reception on a wheel route in the first half.

“Looked like he was running hard to me, what did you see?” Petrino said. “That’s kind of how I do with the running backs, I try to get them all involved early and then it’s whoever I think is hot.”

The story of the game is still Huskies’ quarterback Jordan Lynch and his 159 yards rushing, 152 yards passing and five total touchdowns. Idaho was able to stick him at the line of scrimmage in the first half, punish him and contain him but it was only a matter of time before he broke out. The turning point was in the middle of the third quarter when Lynch followed his blockers down the field for a 61-yard touchdown run, giving the Huskies a 35-28 lead.

“I think we hit the run fits really well the first half,” linebacker Broc Westlake said. “second half there were a few missed tackles and a couple missed assignments, but the first half everyone was really flying around.”

Westlake helped lead a defense that forced Northern Illinois into seven punts and two lost fumbles in the Huskies’ 17 total drives. But it wasn’t enough.

“We’re improving, but to beat Northern Illinois I have to be able say they played great!” Petrino exclaimed, slamming on the table to demonstrate his point. “That’s how I have to say it.”

Other notes

– Petrino said Richard Montgomery cramped up in the second half which affected his ability to involve him in the second half

– Josh McCain was also banged up in the second half, Petrino said.

– The offensive line conceded nine sacks, seven of them on Chalich. That brings Idaho’s sacked total to 21 on the season.

– Austin Rehkow is 1-for-4 on the season in field goal attempts. His 39-yard attempt was blocked.

Sean Kramer is a 24-year old University of Idaho student majoring in Journalism. He's been a sports writer at The Argonaut since the fall of 2011.
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