The smiles and high fives started with :33 remaining on the game clock with Jed Solomon’s 32-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright and bounced away to preserve the University of Idaho’s 19-16 victory over Troy University in a Sun Belt Conference game.
The victory snapped a 24-game road losing streak for the Vandals and put them at 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the league. Troy is 1-5, 0-2.
“I’m so proud of our players,” coach Paul Petrino said. “I’ve won Sugar Bowls, Cotton Bowls, huge games my whole life. I don’t know if any one was better than that. With everything our players went through the last 24 hours, for them to go out there and lay it on the line like that … give it everything they’ve got. It’s just a special day.”
For the Vandals, the victory capped what likely felt like the never-ending day. Their charter out of Spokane to Alabama was delayed by mechanical problems. Instead of leaving at 1:30 p.m. Friday, they left at 3:30 a.m. Saturday (which is 5:30 a.m. Central time in Alabama). The Vandals landed a little after 9 a.m., headed to their hotel for breakfast and meetings, then drove the remaining hour to Troy for the 2:30 p.m. Central time kickoff.
“Guys stepped up and made plays,” said Petrino, who was particularly proud of an inspired defensive effort from a unit so depleted by injury receiver Dezmon Epps spent time in the secondary. His confidence in the unit held up to the end when he was faced with going for it on fourth down or having Austin Rehkow attempt yet another field goal.
“Our defense had been playing so well I took the three-point lead,” he said of Rehkow’s kick with 3:01 to play for the 19-16 margin. “I believe they’d stop them and they did. I’m just so happy with our whole team. Everyone contributed – every player, every assistant coach.
“It’s a great day to be a Vandal.”
The Vandals scored first when Austin Rehkow’s 34-yard field goal with 10:11 to go in the first half capped an 11-play, 65-yard drive that was highlighted by Dezmon Epps’ 28-yard reception from Matt Linehan.
Idaho added to its lead with another Rehkow field goal – this time a 31-yarder with 5:49 remaining in the second quarter. The kick capped a seven-play, 43-yard drive that was hampered by Vandal penalties as they drove into Troy territory. Along the way, again, were a couple more big pickups between Linehan and Epps with an 18-yarder and a 41-yarder.
Marc Millan had his first career interception to thwart a Troy drive into Vandal territory but the Vandals were unable to capitalize and the Trojans had the ball back with 1:34 left in the first half. The Idaho defense held with tackles-for-loss by Chris Edwards and Quinton Bradley, and the Trojans punted with :47 to go in the half.
This drive, too, stalled and Rehkow was called in for a 52-yard field goal attempt that had the distance but was wide left for his first miss of the season and the half ended with Idaho leading 6-0.
Armond Hawkins stopped Troy’s first drive of the second half when he recovered a fumble at the Idaho two. The Vandals weren’t able to move the ball and Rehkow booted 53-yard punt that was returned 23 yards to set up an eventual 41-yard field goal by Jed Solomon. Solomon’s kick with 9:49 left in the third cut the Vandals’ lead to 6-3.
Bradley had his chance at a turnover and took it with a fumble recovery that led to Jake Luton’s four-yard scoring run. His burst capped the five-play, 21-yard drive with 4:53 to go in the third. Rehkow’s PAT made it 13-3.
Russell Siavii nabbed his second interception of the season with a diving catch at the Troy 40 on the Trojans’ next series. The drive stalled at the Troy 23 but Rehkow came on again and booted his third field goal of the game – this one a 40-yarder with 1:33 left in the third to put Idaho up 16-3.
Troy’s next series ended on Solomon’s 39-yard field goal just 11 seconds into the fourth quarter. With 14:49 to play, Idaho led 16-3.
The Trojans recovered their onside kick and, with 6-7 Dallas Tidwell at quarterback, scored just three plays later on his 43-yard pass to Teddy Ruben. Troy closed to 16-13 with 14:18 to play.
Troy drove deep into Idaho’s territory again but, after two incomplete passes, Tidwell fell down in the backfield and Solomon was back in for a field goal attempt. Again, it was good from 34 yards and with 9:07 to play, the game was tied at 16.