Of all the talented teams in the Big Sky this year, the Vandals were probably last on most people’s minds to make some noise this fall. That was likely before Saturday night’s showing at Washington State, though. With just seconds left to go against the Cougars, Idaho had their chance to deliver a big blow to their FBS neighbors. They didn’t quite get it done for first-year head coach Jason Eck but the effort they put forth was certainly worthy of praise.
Things got off to a bumpy start for WSU on their opening drive when they fumbled and Idaho’s Malakai Williams jumped on it. It would be a sign of struggles to come for the Cougars.
On Washington State’s next drive, Donovan Ollie hauled in a pass but lost control of the ball. Marcus Harris scooped it up and rumbled 41 yards the other way for the first score of the night. Idaho would tack on three more before the end of the first quarter. The Vandals made it very clear early that they meant business.
After WSU kicker Dean Janikowski missed a 51-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, the Cougars finally started to find some answers for the Idaho defense. Cameron Ward, who transferred over from Incarnate Word this offseason, got his first touchdown with his new team when he hit Renard Bell for a three-yard score. An interception by Idaho QB Gevani McCoy on the ensuing possession set Washington State up for the field goal it needed to tie it. At halftime it was 10 all.
Eck came out aggressive in the second half and rolled the dice on fourth and short. McCoy’s pass, though, was incomplete and the Vandals turned it over on downs. WSU capitalized when Ward connected on his second touchdown of the night, this time to receiver De’Zhaun Stribling. Finally, with just over eight minutes to play in the third, the Cougars had their first lead.
Idaho hung tough and their defense stepped up to force punt after punt. With the offense struggling to find any traction, the D made a big play and forced its third turnover of the night early in the fourth when Devante Keys grabbed a fumble from Nakia Watson.
Again, however, the Vandals offense failed to produce much of anything. Shortly after the drive petered out, Ward hit on his third touchdown of the game to put Washington State up 24-10. At that point it seemed out of reach.
The Vandals didn’t bow, though. McCoy led the offense on its most productive drive of the night, marching 75 yards in eight plays. He capped it with a 23-yard scoring pass to receiver Jordan Dwyer to pull Idaho to within seven again.
Janikowski’s rough night kicking became nightmarish late in the fourth when he attempted a 23-yarder that would have put the game on ice. AFter a lengthy drive that put WSU in great position to win, he missed badly with under a minute to go and gave Idaho a newfound life.
Unfortunately for the Vandals, their comeback bid ended moments later with a McCoy pick but not before he got them all the way down the Washington State 28-yard line. All things considered, Idaho had taken the game right down to the wire.
Receiver Jermaine Jackson balled out for the Vandals, catching five passes for a team-high 110 yards. McCoy completed 21 of his 32 pass attempts and had a touchdown in there as well.
There was certainly plenty of positives to glean from Eck’s coaching debut. His team controlled the ball for well over half the game and had shown a tremendous amount of grit in the face of adversity. Whenever it seemed like WSU had finally gained control, the Vandals came sneaking back and they were never truly out of it.
That alone has to be a welcomed sight for fans who have witnessed the team only win 11 total games over the last three seasons. There’s still plenty of work to be done in Moscow but Saturday night’s game should give Idaho faithful hope. The Eck era is officially underway and it’s off to a solid start.
The Vandals will hit the road again next weekend to take on another FBS opponent, this time Indiana.