MOSCOW – They met a few feet outside the media room, the backup quarterback pressed into action and the coach who had just finished trying to express his jumbled emotions.
When Robb Akey saw backup QB Brian Reader, all he could think to do was provide a bear hug and words of consolation.
“I thought it would be a fantastic finish,” the Vandals coach said to Reader. “I thought you would be the hero of the day.”
But no, the late-game thrills that had come to define Idaho’s season inside the Kibbie Dome didn’t materialize Saturday. The Vandals coughed up the ball twice in the fourth quarter and absorbed a 52-49 loss to the Utah State Aggies in their regular-season finale.
Idaho recovered from a 24-point deficit to take leads of 35-31 and 42-38. But after starting QB Nathan Enderle reinjured his throwing shoulder early in the fourth quarter, the Vandals failed to capture their usual fourth-quarter Dome magic.
“We needed five more minutes to win this game, which we didn’t have,” right guard Adam Juratovac said.
At 7-5, Idaho is all but guaranteed a bowl berth when announcements are made next week. But Juratovac and 10 other contributing seniors finished their home careers pondering a menagerie of miscues and missed chances in a game that was viewed by just 8,532.
The Vandals once again got off to a bumbling start, falling behind 31-7 midway through the second quarter. Utah State QB Diondre Borel tossed TD passes of 85, 48 and 22 yards in a 10-minute span, with all the connections coming against Idaho defenders left alone in man coverage.
The last two scores in the sequence, in fact, came about when tailback Robert Turbin was matched up with linebackers JoJo Dickson and Robert Siavii, respectively. Both were beaten badly in the open field.
But the Vandals, as has been their tendency at home, stabilized and climbed back into contention. Enderle found Max Komar twice in the end zone and then hit Maurice Shaw for a 7-yard TD strike to put Idaho back on top, 35-31 with 4:02 left in the third period.
A few minutes later, however, Enderle scrambled out of the pocket and landed hard on the shoulder that caused him to miss the last two games. Reader came in and immediately floated a 29-yard pass to Shaw for a score.
But on the first play of the next possession, Reader and Deonte Jackson botched the exchange on a pitch, setting up a 1-yard TD for USU – its third of the fourth quarter. Reader then threw an interception six plays later.
“I was trying to be a hero and force the ball in,” Reader said.
A missed field goal by the Aggies (4-8) gave the Vandals another opportunity, and Reader hit Daniel Hardy in the back of the end zone with 1:16 left to slice the Aggies’ cushion to 52-49.
USU easily recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
“I told the seniors I was a sick to my stomach for them that we couldn’t win their last home game,” Akey said. “I told this football team that none of us are happy with our performance today, but we can’t let it overshadow a seven-win season. It hasn’t been accomplished in the regular season around here in a long time.”
Idaho finishes with the best record since 1999, when it went 7-4 and didn’t reach a bowl under Chris Tormey. This time, its 7-5 record is overshadowed temporarily by a three-game losing streak to finish the year and giving up 250 points in the final five games.
“It stings right now and it’s hard to focus on anything else except what just happened,” receiver Preston Davis said.
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