Coming home to victory
With Vandal legends in attendance, the Idaho football team exited the Kibbie Dome Saturday with the sweet taste of victory rather than the sourness of a bitter loss for the first time this season.
In a clash of two teams preparing for independent football next season, Idaho had opportunities to demolish New Mexico State on Homecoming, but the Vandals still achieved a 26-18 win over the Aggies, their first of the season.
The Vandals faltered on their first offensive play when quarterback Dominique Blackman sent Todd Handley on a wheel route, only to be picked off by Trashuan Nixon. The Aggies couldn’t capitalize and punted. This back-and-forth theme continued for the better part of four quarters.
“It was a more complete game. There’s still some things that irritate you, but I’m happy to be irritated with a win,” coach Robb Akey said.
“More than anything in the world I’m happy as hell for that room of players.”
Neither offense looked sharp early on, but under Blackman Idaho eased into things as the first quarter progressed.
When Austin Franklin, the nation’s second-leading receiver, muffed a punt return with almost three minutes remaining in the first quarter, Blackman and Najee Lovett made the most of the opportunity at hand.
On the 35-yard line, Blackman found one of his favorite receivers open in the slot, threw on a rope to Lovett, who evaded one tackle en route to the end zone.
Blackman emphasized the importance of stretching the field and figuring out the deep ball.
“North Carolina was kind of a reality check. It’s easier to really jump our short game and a couple of those turnovers were because I had no one deep, so I had no choice than to try and get somebody the ball underneath,” Blackman said.
For the first time this season, the Vandals played as a collective unit, opposed to last week at North Carolina when the offense, defense and special teams failed to exhibit any progress or growth.
The defense allowed its lowest point total in six games, the offensive line didn’t allow a sack for the second game this season and Trey Farquhar was a perfect four for four, with field goals from 32, 39, 53 and 55 yards out.
Still, Idaho’s growth needs to be exponential throughout the next few weeks to have chances against upcoming WAC opposition. The Vandals committed nine penalties for 97 yards, three of those stemming from personal fouls called on defensive tackle QuayShawne Buckley.
“We had some dumb penalties in the second half. They don’t have to have that score, we have them stopped on a fourth down and we had a foolish penalty that keeps the ball in their end,” Akey said.
Despite its mental errors, Idaho was consistent elsewhere.
Farquhar’s career performance was recognized immediately and the senior was named the Placekicker of the Week by College Football Performance Awards. Farquhar is Idaho’s all-time percentage leader, having connected on 51 of his 65 career attempts. The 55-yarder tied his career-long on Saturday, which was set at San Jose State last season.
“Just doing my job,” Farquhar said.
With the win, Idaho is tied atop the WAC standings with an unblemished 1-0 mark. Texas-San Antonio downed the Aggies last week and is also 1-0.
The Vandals will trek down to San Marcos, Texas, this week to visit new WAC member Texas State. The 2-3 Bobcats defeated Houston to open the season and have since only beaten FCS opponent Stephen F. Austin.
Blackman said he appreciates the taste of victory, but would like to see better of his team in the future.
“We’ve just got to learn to win,” Blackman said. “Winning teams would’ve put that team away.”
Theo Lawson can be reached at email@example.com