For 20 Idaho football players, Saturday was their last chance to show Moscow what they’re made of.
The Vandal seniors put on a show during their final Kibbie Dome appearance, blowing out Georgia State 37-12.
“Nobody outside this building thought we could do what we did this year,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said. “We went through some tough times but everybody kept fighting and everybody kept working. Today was a great day.”
Wildcat quarterback Conner Manning made a mistake early when he fumbled on a run up the middle. Sophomore linebacker Kaden Elliss scooped up the loose ball and took off 54 yards to the Georgia State 14-yard line.
Junior quarterback Matt Linehan took advantage of the short field by tossing an 11-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Callen Hightower.
Manning responded with a 63-yard bomb to receiver Jawan Nobles, who caught the ball in stride and streaked to the end zone. A missed field goal by the Panthers kept Idaho in the lead 7-6.
Linehan spread the ball around.
After rolling right, he found senior tight end Trent Cowan leaping over a defender to haul in another Vandal touchdown.
Georgia State receiver Robert Davis started the second quarter with a bang. Davis bounced outside an underneath route and hurdled an Idaho defender to cap off a 20-yard run.
Manning threw an 11-yard touchdown pass. The Panthers missed the extra point again, and Idaho’s lead stayed at two.
Senior tight end Deon Watson extended the Vandal’s lead after catching a touchdown pass from Linehan.
On the next drive, Manning tried to fit the ball in a tight window between his receiver and senior safety D.J. Hampton. Both players simultaneously grabbed the ball, but Hampton ripped it away for the interception. The turnover led to an Idaho field goal.
Georgia State attempted its own field goal, but the kick sailed wide right.
At the end of the half, Idaho led Georgia State 24-12.
Troubles in kicking seemed to be contagious. Senior kicker Austin Rehkow missed his 44-yard attempt in the third quarter. The miss was Rehkow’s first since Idaho’s game against Washington State Sept. 17.
Idaho’s defense made up for the mistake after senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan hauled in a bobbling interception.
Rehkow rebounded with a 23-yard attempt to put Idaho up 27-12.
Shortly after, the Panthers were forced to punt. Before the kicker could put the ball away, freshman defensive back Lloyd Hightower broke through the line and swatted it out of the air. Hightower scooped up the ball and ripped past the Panthers for a touchdown.
Jordan came up with his second interception after a Panther receiver attempted a one-handed grab and tipped the ball in the air.
“I couldn’t ask for a better way to end the season,” Jordan said.
Rekhow punched another field goal to keep Idaho in front 37-12.
Elliss snagged his second turnover after Manning’s pass was tipped by senior defensive lineman Tueni Lupeamanu.
After the game, Elliss said he thinks highly of Jordan.
“It’s something special,” Ellis said. “This is one of the last times I get to play with him. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with.”
Jordan had the second most tackles for Idaho with five, along with two interceptions.
“To go out on a win, it’s a blessing,” Watson said.
Idaho plays in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 4 p.m. Dec. 22.
Brandon Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill