‘Two plays’ could’ve been difference between winning, losing for Idaho

Tribune/Pete Caster

Idaho tight end Connor Whitney reacts after losing the handle on the ball after crossing over the goal line in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game.Tribune/Pete Caster

MOSCOW — It probably was the Weber State punter’s pair of fourth-down running conversions that pierced Idaho coach Paul Petrino’s mind when he said the Vandals just needed to make “two more plays.”

But it could’ve been many other missed opportunities and mishaps, perhaps outcome-altering reps that would’ve made a difference in the 41-35 Wildcats decision Saturday at the Kibbie Dome.

It’s why Petrino seemed to be flipping back and forth between upset and optimistic. For starters, his unranked 9-point underdog team bounced back from a loss to a woeful Northern Colorado team and was right in the mix with fourth-ranked Weber State, which was boasting a top-10 Football Championship Subdivision defense.

“You don’t need to hug the other team and smile, but you also don’t need to hang your head,” he said.

UI probably could’ve held a lead for longer than a couple of minutes if it weren’t for its 114 yards lost on 12 penalties, or its three turnovers. Those should be steps Nos. 1 and 2. But to be fair, Weber State committed 11 penalties for 99 yards.

Three of Idaho’s flags were on first downs on early series. Two of those snuffed out drives before they even began.

After the third possession ended, Weber State quarterback Jake Constantine tossed one into the arms of a sprawling Tyrese Dedmon, who couldn’t hold on.

If it weren’t for UI’s constant shooting itself in the foot in the early going of those drives, the defense wouldn’t have had to provide such a spark by prohibiting the Wildcats from taking a much larger lead than 13-0.

“The penalties, the penalties killed us in the first quarter,” receiver Cutrell Haywood said.

It certainly didn’t help that Jeff Cotton and Aundre Carter — Idaho’s two top-shelf offensive standouts — took unfortunate tumbles, and left the Vandals crippled at the skill-player positions.

It also didn’t help UI lost out on a scoring opportunity in the third quarter, when what appeared to be a forward pass was ruled a fumble. The Vandals gave up on the ball, but the Wildcats heard no whistles.

Another bounce, early in the second quarter, did not go Idaho’s way. Charles Akanno left Weber State tackle Xavier Stilson in the dust and gave Constantine a crack. Constantine coughed it up, but the ball ricocheted right back to him.

“They made plays, so at the end of the day, it is what it is,” Akanno said.

But what Petrino was hinting at is the Vandals are “not as far away” from competing in the Big Sky as most would think, despite their wild erraticism.

Idaho had a multitude of errors. Even so, the Vandals didn’t perpetuate a couple of recent bad habits — collapsing after a slow start or stuttering mightily after halftime. Mason Petrino, who’d fumbled three times and taken some healthy shots, didn’t falter late either.

The Vandals did burn timeouts down the stretch of the fourth, though, before they truly were needed. Could that have made a difference?

UI leaned on two backup running backs and a second-option at receiver, its defense did just barely enough to keep it within reach, and it even returned a kick for a score.

Maybe, the Vandals were a rep or two away from making things more interesting, whether they be a lucky bounce, a special-teams stop, a rewind on some sloppy late-game clock management or potentially, a recovered onside kick.

Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.

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