Close, no cigar: Vandals start strong, fail to finish — lose 40-37 in overtime
It’s a game of inches. At least that’s what Idaho coach Robb Akey insisted after the Vandal football team came closer to a win than they have all season.
In an overtime thriller, the visiting Wyoming Cowboys outlasted Idaho, defeating the Vandals 40-37 Saturday in the Kibbie Dome.
Suspense was high and all the pressure was on the Vandals following a Wyoming touchdown that put the Cowboys on top 34-27 with just over three minutes to play. But it was Dominique Blackman, Idaho’s junior quarterback, who had the last laugh — in regulation that is.
Blackman led Idaho to a 12-play touchdown drive that concluded with him slinging a touchdown pass to leading receiver Mike Scott, who snagged the ball between two Cowboy defenders.
“I heard what play it was and I was like ‘Man, I could make a big play right now it’s either make or break, big time in the game if I catch it we move, if I don’t then it’s game over … ’” Scott said.
Scott’s reception was undoubtedly Idaho’s most crucial of the season, but the Vandals had no such luck in overtime, when Blackman threw an incomplete pass, then was sacked for 9 yards on the very next play.
Trey Farquhar put Idaho in front with a 49-yard field goal, but the lead was short lived.
Wyoming had exploited weaknesses within the Vandal secondary all game and on the first play of their overtime drive, quarterback Brett Smith sent receiver Jalen Claiborne deep, and the sophomore beat Vandal safety Trey Williams for the 25-yard touchdown reception.
Williams went down with an injury and Cowboy players stormed the field, celebrating their first win of the 2012 campaign.
“Where we’re at right now, we’re talking about inches, literally inches,” Akey said. “And you can pick your opportunity, it’s not just that last play of the game … we had our opportunities and that aggravates you a little bit that we didn’t make it a couple score differential and not make it so we have to go into overtime.”
Those opportunities weren’t at a minimum for the now 0-4 Vandals. A mistake on Blackman’s part occurred inches away from the end zone during a first and goal situation early in the fourth quarter. Blackman attempted a QB sneak on the Wyoming 1-yard line, only to get the ball swatted away by a Cowboy defender.
Recovering the ball, the Smith/Chris McNeill combination was in effect when the two hooked up for an 80-yard reception on first and 10 from the Cowboy 3-yard line. Wyoming scored just two plays later, and the teams were level once again.
“It was a great play by those guys,” Blackman said of the goal line fumble. “It’s just frustrating for me because I’m the only one that touched the ball every play. I just have to be able to make those plays when I have the opportunity.”
Those in attendance may attest to the fact that Blackman wasn’t the only player to blame Saturday. Idaho’s first-year starter, despite the turnover, was nothing short of spectacular statistically. Blackman was 34 of 46 (73 percent) with 306 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. Not to mention he was efficient on the ground as well, rushing for 34 yards on seven carries with another touchdown.
Smith and McNeill ate up the Vandal secondary with ease. The sophomore found his go-to man eight times for 219 yards and one touchdown. As a whole, Idaho allowed Smith to hit his receivers five times for more than 20 yards.
“Big plays are kind of what got us secondary-wise … We’ve got to keep them at a minimum, it’s something we’ve talked about and something we’ve worked on,” Akey said.
Offensively, Idaho wasn’t forced to rely solely on its effective pass game. For the first time this season, the run game proved a major threat to an opposing defense.
Senior running back Ryan Bass had carried the ball 34 times for 85 yards leading up to Saturday’s game. The Arizona State transfer elapsed that mark with 121 yards on 19 carries against the Cowboys. James Baker added another 75 yards, off of just 10 carries.
“I think we did a better job finishing those off … We did a better job about executing it, you can see we ran it more than we had in any of those other games,” Akey said.
Idaho will take an improved offense to Chapel Hill on Saturday where they’ll meet North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the ACC with a loss to Wake Forest.
Theo Lawson can be reached at email@example.com