Idaho coach Paul Petrino sat down in the postgame press conference with his youngest daughter, Ava, at his side. As reporters fired questions at her father, she maintained a smile on her face.
She had good reason to be happy.
Her dad won his first game as head coach on Saturday, downing the Temple Owls 26-24 in front of a Homecoming crowd of 15,323, inside the Kibbie Dome.
Following the final whistle, Petrino embraced his family on the field as players raced by him, jumping and screaming in celebration.
The win was deserved. The Vandals (1-4) put together their most complete game of the season with a fast start and held on in the second half to fend off Temple.
Behind freshman kicker Austin Rehkow’s four field goals and freshman quarterback Chad Chalich’s 424 yards of total offense, the Vandals were finally able to get over the hump.
Chalich terrorized the Temple defense with 310 yards passing and 114 yards rushing, to go with his one touchdown, working the play-action and read-option attacks the Vandals utilized.
None of his yards were as important as the 10 yards he gained with under three minutes left in the game. Up 26-24, Chalich took the shotgun 3rd-and-10 snap and took off up the middle on a designed run, lunging his body just past the marker to pick up the first down. The play allowed Idaho to drain the clock to under 20 seconds before Temple got the ball back.
It iced the game.
“(Petrino) believed in me to get that first down on third and down to put us in a situation to win the game,” Chalich said. “I just dropped back and I just went for it.”
The play helped stem the tide of momentum that Temple had built in the fourth quarter. Idaho led 17-3 going into the half, but Temple mounted its best offensive drives of the day after the halftime break, outscoring Idaho 21-9 in the second half. Temple capped its momentum with a 2-yard touchdown run with 3:32 left in the game to trim the Idaho lead to 26-24.
But it wasn’t enough for Temple to mount a comeback, thanks to the leg of Rehkow. Rehkow hit the last of his four field goals with 6:11 left in the game when he comfortably nailed a chip-shot from 25 yards out.
“I love having the pressure on me,” Rehkow said. “Whether I’m struggling or not, I want that pressure. And as kickers, for myself, I love the pressure situations.”
Rehkow also hit from 39, 30 and 38 yards, going 4-for-5 on field goal attempts on the day, only missing from 50 yards out. Rehkow came into the game 1-for-5 on the season in field goal attempts, but is now at a 50-percent clip. Those were also his first four successful field goal attempts in the Kibbie Dome.
“Once that first one went through, the confidence kind of came back and you know, it was great. I love kicking in the Dome, no wind,” Rehkow said.
The win comes a week after a post-game handshake conflict between Petrino and Washington State coach Mike Leach became national news, over-shadowing Idaho’s 42-0 embarrassment at Martin Stadium in the Battle of the Palouse.
Petrino’s post-game demeanor last Saturday was that of a coach who was relieved to get the first of what he hopes to be many wins out of the way.
“I’m happy. Happy for my wife, happy for my kids, happy for my assistant coaches, happy for the players,” Petrino said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Defense steps up
Christian Whitehead was playing with the scout team on the Wednesday leading up to the Washington State game. Instead of working to figure out how to slow down Mike Leach’s air raid offense, he was imitating Cougars’ cornerback Nolan Washington to assist the Vandal offense.
Ten days later, Whitehead started his first game and played all four quarters for a Vandal secondary that held Temple to 5.3 yards per pass attempt.
“You always have a book you’re going to write someday of crazy things that happen in the coaching profession and that’d be one of them,” Petrino said. “That’s why you keep at it and why you keep fighting.”
In the trenches, it was junior Maxx Forde and senior QuayShawne Buckley creating the pressure Idaho needed. Both came up with a sack and two tackles for loss.
“When those two get one-on-one they should never get blocked. They got to have that mentality, if they’re one-on-one they need to be hitting that quarterback,” Petrino said. “They did it a whole bunch tonight, that was great to see.”
Sean Kramer can be reached at email@example.com