There was thunder and lightning and heartbreak in Louisiana Saturday night for the Idaho Vandals, who lost, 38-31, in the final seconds to Louisiana-Monroe in their season and Sun Belt Conference opener.
The game came down to the wire after Idaho tied the score at 31 on Deon Watson’s 32-yard reception from Matt Linehan, who had an outstanding collegiate debut with 324 yards passing and three TD strikes.
Coach Paul Petrino noted the high cost of penalties and turnovers, but he also noted the determined play of the Vandals. In amassing 324 yards, Linehan – a redshirt freshman and the son of former Vandal quarterback Scott Linehan (a Dallas Cowboys’ assistant) connected on 26 of 47 passes. His favorite targets were senior Joshua McCain, the quarterback turned receiver, who had eight catches for 93 yards, Watson (seven for 98) and Richard Montgomery (six for 73).
Listen to Petrino's post-game comments.
Defensively, junior linebackers Marc Millan and Irving Steele had 14 stops each with senior safety Bradley Njoku accounting for 10.
All-American punter Austin Rehkow lived up to his reputation with an average of 48.3 yards on is seven punts. He also kicked off, booted a 28-yard field goal and was good on all four PATs he attempted.
Once again, the game was held up by lightning.
Idaho scored first but Louisiana-Monroe scored back-to-back to take a 14-7 lead before the game was halted because of lightning in the area. The delay began at 6:43 p.m. (Central) and ended at 8:49 p.m.
The Vandals went to the air on their first drive and capped it with a nine-yard Linehan-to-McCain scoring pass with 11:42 left in the first quarter. Linehan was four-for-four for 79 yards on the seven-play drive, which was highlighted by a 40-yard pickup with a Linehan-to-Montgomery connection on the first play.
The defense was equally as effective during its first time on the field by holding the Warhawks to a negative four yards and a punt.
Idaho stalled – the result of a sack and two penalties, and the Vandals punted on their next possession, which set up ULM’s first score – a two-yard pass from Pete Thomas to Alec Osborne.
Penalties haunted the Vandals offensive and defensively on the ensuing possessions – one thwarted their own forward progress and the others gave the Warhawks a boost en route to a 77-yard scoring play on their next possession.
After the delay of two hours and six minutes, play resumed. The Vandals were stymied on their first possession but the Warhawks, using a pass interference call, scored on their first opportunity to go up 21-7 with 20 second remaining in the first quarter.
The teams traded punts, which included a 54-yarder by Austin Rehkow, before Elijhaa Penny capped a 79-yard drive to score from three yards out with 7:50 left in the first half. Rekhow’s kick made it 21-14.
Chris Edwards then intercepted Thomas and returned it 42 yards to set up the 10-yard scoring pass from Linehan to McCain – their scoring hookup of the half. With Rekhow’s kick, it was 21-21 with 6:52 left in the half.
The Warhawks went up 24-21 on Justin Manton’s 27-yard field goal with 13 second remaining in the second quarter.
ULM added to its lead when Hunter Kissinger intercepted Linehan early in the third quarter and in Idaho territory. His four-yard return to the Vandal 21 led to Centarius Donald’s scoring run with 8:36 left in the third for a 31-21 ULM lead.
The Vandals’ next drive was thwarted by another Idaho turnover – this time a fumble by McCain at the ULM 44 with 6:33 left in the third. The Warhawks drove to Idaho’s four but the Vandal defense held and they took over on downs.
Idaho marched to the ULM 11 before settling on a 28-yard field goal by Rehkow to cut the cap to 31-24 with 13:59 left in the game.
· Matt Linehan’s first collegiate pass was to Montgomery for a 40-yard pickup.
· Linehan completed his first eight passes before an incompletion.
· Chris Edwards had the Vandals’ first interception of the season – a second quarter grab that he returned 42 yards to set up Idaho’s third TD.