Last season Idaho had very little to prove- fans didn’t expect much of the team after several losing seasons. Yet when they finished with an 9-4 record and a monster win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Idaho proved it could be the team fans had been wanting and waiting for.
So, this season the Vandals did have something to prove. Idaho had to live up to the standards they set last season and even go beyond. The team raised the bar last season, so why not make it the team motto for this season?
It was clear they could do it, but it took a while to see the team that fans came to expect. Idaho opened the season with a win against future Big Sky opponent Sacramento State, but it was nothing overwhelming. And that was ok, it was early and a win was a win.
Fast forward a week to UNLV, a game Idaho and its fans went into expecting a win. Instead of reassuring fans that it could be the winning program it promised to be, Idaho walked away 28-point losers on their own home field.
The Vandals found a tough win at South Alabama in the first game of conference play. They battled against Western Michigan and Appalachian State, but ultimately could not get the W, falling to a 2-5 overall record before this week. All in all, the season was not what was expected.
Heading into the game against Louisianan- Monroe Saturday, the Idaho football team had something to prove, not just to themselves but to fans alike.
Idaho needed to win four of the five final games of the season in order to have a chance at a bowl game, something that is now expected of the team.
Idaho’s 31-23 take down of the Warhawks was a step in the right direction. Just because Idaho was favored to win did not mean anything – an easy win is not something Idaho is familiar with. All though there was a lot of hope Idaho could snap the three-game losing streak, a lot of doubts still lingered.
A touchdown from senior quarterback Matt Linehan to junior wide receiver David Ungerer after just several minutes brought some energy to the bleachers in the Kibbie Dome. But it was not the first time the Vandals have taken an early lead and ended up with a loss, so it did not necessarily instill a lot of confidence that it would mean a win.
The confidence came around half time when it became clears whose game it was to win and who was going to fight harder to finish it out- Idaho.
Idaho held a 28-7 lead at the halftime, the teams largest ever under head coach Paul Petrino, and Linehan had 249 passing yards in just 30 minutes.
Then Idaho held a 31-7 lead. The offense that held back throughout the beginning of the season showed up and put on a show in the Dome. Although the opponents made a run and found a way to bring it within striking distance, Idaho closed out a tough game for the first time this season.
It was what the team and the fans needed. Coaches and athletes alike have been saying they can do it, they can win. But the results did not show it.
Somehow all the pieces that had been falling apart all season, from an unproductive offense to a defense that was easily poked through, came together and Idaho looked like a bowl-contender.
Ask anyone a part of the team and they will tell you they are still in it, fans should expect to see them in a bowl game even if it has looked bleak. They have made their promises. And finally, they proved they can keep them.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at email@example.com