Idaho sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan and senior wide receiver Dezmon Epps were in sync all night, and later, Linehan found his rhythm with junior tight end Deon Watson.
But it wasn’t enough as the Idaho Vandals fell to the Ohio Bobcats 45-28 in the opener for both teams Thursday night at the Kibbie Dome.
Linehan completed 35 out of 47 passes for 285 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked four times.
Epps caught 14 passes for 148 yards and Watson had five receptions for 48 yards and one touchdown.
Idaho senior running back Elijhaa Penny scored two touchdowns while rushing for 69 yards on 17 carries.
Ohio jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter after two Derrius Vick touchdown passes and an interception returned for a touchdown by Ohio linebacker Jovon Johnson.
“I just think we got to start faster,” Linehan said. “We can’t come out of the gates slow. Both sides of the ball we just got to come out and hit the ground running.”
But the Vandals responded with 10 unanswered points — an Austin Rehkow 40-yard field goal and a one-yard touchdown run by Penny — to cut Idaho’s deficit to 21-10. The touchdown scoring drive covered 71 yards in 12 plays.
Ohio stopped Idaho’s run with a two-yard touchdown pass from JD Sprague to tight end Keith Heitzman, putting the Bobcats up 28-10 with 6:15 left in the second quarter.
The Vandals climbed back into the game in the fourth quarter when Penny barreled into the end zone for another one-yard touchdown run with 11:51 remaining in the game.
Ohio essentially sealed the game with a rushing touchdown by Daz’Mond Patterson with 5:32 left. The drive consumed 6:19 and covered 75 yards on 11 plays.
The Vandals didn’t quit. They drove down the field and scored on a five-yard pass from Linehan to Watson with 2:34 left in the game. Linehan and Watson connected again on the two-point conversion to cut the Bobcats’ lead to 38-28.
The Vandals failed to obtain the onside kick that followed the Idaho two-point conversion.
Ohio’s Kylan Nelson rushed for a 17-yard touchdown with less than a minute to play to increase the Bobcats’ lead to 45-28.
“The guys kept playing hard, especially the offense in the second half I thought actually played well in the second half,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “Defensively, we got to stop the run. That wasn’t really good, but offensively I thought they kept playing hard and got it to 10 two times and we got to get a stop.”
Next, Idaho (0-1) will face USC Sept. 12 in Los Angeles.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CabezaGarrett