The Idaho football team finished a tough road schedule with a 33-30 overtime win against UNLV Saturday in Las Vegas.
The Vandals entered Saturday’s game as the underdogs, but outperformed the Rebels.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Idaho head coach Paul Petrino in an interview with ESPN radio. “That was the proudest group of guys as I’ve ever been in, and the happiest group of guys I’ve ever been with.”
Sophomore linebacker Kaden Elliss intercepted a pass from Rebel quarterback Johnny Stanton and ran it back 31 yards for a touchdown, providing an early spark for the team.
Senior defensive lineman Tueni Lupeamanu swatted down a pass when the Rebels tried to convert on fourth-and-three.
In the second quarter, Elliss intercepted Stanton again on the Idaho 34-yard line.
“Kaden Elliss was a superstar,” Petrino said. “I thought our defense played unbelievable early on. It was awesome.”
The interception set up a field goal from senior kicker Austin Rehkow.
A 27-yard reverse by Rebel wide receiver Darren Woods Jr. put UNLV within scoring range on the next drive. UNLV running back Lexington Thomas capitalized with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Idaho responded. Junior running back Aaron Duckworth found a lane up the middle for a touchdown.
The Rebels scored the last points of the half on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Stanton to receiver Mark Phillip. The Vandals led at halftime 17-14.
On Idaho’s opening possession, Rehkow nailed a 33-yard field goal after a 37-yard pass from Linehan to redshirt junior receiver Jacob Sannon. Rehkow landed five punts inside UNLV’s 20-yard line.
The Rebels made offensive adjustments after halftime. Stanton’s creative play-calling paid off when he ran for 27 yards into Idaho territory. The run set up a field goal that cut Idaho’s lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Rebels made another short field goal and tied the game at 20.
Linehan threw a deep ball to junior wide receiver Rueben Mwhela for 33 yards. The quarterback tucked the ball and ran seven yards for a touchdown on the next play.
Thomas broke tackles and ran 55 yards to tie the game again at 27.
Neither team could break field goal range to win in regulation. The game went into overtime.
The Rebels received possession. With 25 yards to go, Las Vegas failed to pass Idaho’s defense and settled for a field goal.
Senior tight end Trent Cowan dropped a would-be first down pass from Linehan. Duckworth and Linehan picked up the first down and kept the drive alive.
On second-and-goal from the 11, Linehan found senior wide receiver Callen Hightower on a short slant route to the right side. Hightower sped past defenders and into the end zone.
“That’s one of the best wins I’ve had as a part of the Vandal brotherhood here,” Linehan said.
He finished the game with 249 yards and one passing touchdown.
“Matt Linehan was an unbelievable stud,” Petrino said. “He played his tail off. We can feel good about it all the way home on the plane, and then go back to work and keep improving.”
Duckworth ran for 98 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Ed Hall led the Vandal defense with 15 total tackles.
The Vandals will return to Moscow to face Troy 2 p.m. in the Kibbie Dome.
Brandon Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill