After another hot start in the first half, the Vandals were able to shut the door and finish against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, 31-23.
The Vandal defense was able to ride a hot start and be successful in big moments. Warhawk wide receiver and kick returner Marcus Green was limited to only 92 all-purpose yards after he came into the game averaging over 160 all-purpose yards per game.
Louisiana-Monroe managed less than 100 yards in total on the ground, but their air attack was able to rebound from a subpar first half. Against a normally stout Idaho pass defense, sophomore quarterback Caleb Evans put up 261 yards and two touchdowns in the second half and escaped multiple sacks to provide the Warhawks with opportunities.
“We started out too slow and I can’t even count how many times in the past two weeks we’ve gotten in the red zone but failed to score,” said Louisiana-Monroe head coach Matt Viator. “Their defense came out with a good plan, and we settled in on a few things close to the goal line and they didn’t quite work.”
The Vandals bent, but did not break. The defense generated an interception and a fumble, and they managed to stop the Warhawks twice on fourth down inside the red zone.
Kaden Elliss had a standout day, leading the team with 10 tackles. He also lined up as a tight end on offense and caught a 45-yard touchdown pass. On the very next play from scrimmage, this time on defense, he sacked Evans for an eight-yard loss.
“It was fun to come out and finish,” said Elliss. “We did a great job of doing our individual assignments against a really talented team today, and we really pushed to finish and that showed all the way to the end.”
The offense was able to perform at a high level even when Elliss was off the field.
Once again, the Idaho attack put up an impressive first half. The offense put up a season-best 28 points and 350 yards of total offense through the first half. Senior quarterback Matt Linehan
put together his best half of the year with nearly 250 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone.
“It’s huge for us to get back into a winning groove,” said Linehan. “This was a great way to rebound from a tough game last week and our confidence level is starting to get to where it should be. Scoring those early touchdowns put us in a good rhythm and allowed us to set the tone for the game.”
The rushing attack provided plenty of balance for Linehan’s big day, and senior running back Aaron Duckworth lead the way with 113 yards on the ground in addition to a first quarter touchdown.
All of the pieces added together for 21-point lead at halftime, the biggest for head coach Paul Petrino during his tenure at Idaho.
“I’m really proud of these guys because they never quit,” said Petrino after the game. “We got a beautiful team win today. The offensive line had a great day which led to big contributions from Alfonso (Onunwor) and David (Ungerer) and there’s so many guys that deserve recognition but it all came together for a big team win.”
The offensive line allowed only one sack, tied for the season low. Senior wide receiver Alfonso Onunwor recorded 79 yards and a touchdown while junior wideout David Ungerer put up career highs in yards and catches along with a touchdown.
Both teams played very clean up until late in the game. A pair of Vandal drives were stalled out by holding calls in the second half, and Louisiana-Monroe didn’t commit a single penalty until the fourth quarter. A block in the back penalty negated a long punt return by Green that would have set up the Warhawks inside Idaho’s red zone. The Warhawks made it all the way to the two-yard line on their final drive, but a false start pushed them back and discouraged any attempt at running the ball on their final two plays.
“We got a little conservative in the fourth quarter, but we came away with the win and I’m proud of the way our guys were able to grind together,” said Petrino. “This conference win was big, and all the work we put in is starting to show.”
Idaho will travel on a short week to face Troy 6 p.m. Thursday Nov. 2nd in Troy, Alabama.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker