MOBILE, Ala.- A cross-country trip, a fourth-quarter deficit, two lengthy weather delays and two overtimes could not keep Idaho football from starting Sun Belt play 1-0. The Vandals (2-2, 1-0) tied the game with 13 seconds to play in regulation and Isaiah Saunders scored a two-yard rushing touchdown in the second overtime to give Idaho a 29-23 victory over South Alabama (1-3, 0-1), its first conference-opening win since 2012.
“To come up with a win like this under these circumstances is huge for us as a team,” said quarterback Matt Linehan. “It’s something we can build on going forward. The adversity we had to deal with, the delay, being down in the fourth quarter, another delay and come back in overtime and win the game is huge for us. Our team should have all the confidence in the world right now, knowing we can go out and get a win when we need to.”
The teams traded field goals in the first overtime, with Cade Coffey connecting from 39 yards to give Idaho its first lead of the game. The lead did not last long as Gavin Patterson’s 38 yarder forced a second overtime. Patterson missed from 43 yards to give Idaho the ball and a chance to win. That opportunity was put on hold by the game’s second lightning delay.
When play resumed, Saunders carried the ball four times and finished it off with a diving touchdown from two yards out to give the Vandals a 29-23 double-overtime victory.
A two-minute drill from Idaho’s offense made overtime possible. Linehan orchestrated a nine-play, 61-yard drive in 1:17 and capped it off with a 10-yard fade route to Alfonso Onunwor in the corner of the end zone with 13 seconds on the clock to tie the score at 20. It is the latest fourth-quarter deficit Idaho has overcome since the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl.
The Vandals had tied the game at 13 in the fourth quarter, but as they started a potential go-ahead drive with 7:51 to play in regulation the game was halted for two hours and 27 minutes due to lightning in the area.
Once the skies cleared, South Alabama forced Idaho to punt and scored a go-ahead touchdown less than a minute later. The Vandals responded to pick up a crucial road win.
“I'm so proud of our players and our assistant coaches and happy for all of them,” Petrino said. “A game like that comes down to toughness. Our guys kept fighting and kept fighting. It’s one of the best wins we’ve had on the road since I’ve been here.”
A fumble on the second play from scrimmage gave the Jaguars possession at the Idaho 28. A two-yard touchdown run finished the scoring drive and gave South Alabama an early 7-0 lead. The Vandals got on the board with a 36-yard field goal from Coffey at the 6:31 mark. USA answered with a 34-yard field goal of its own near the end of the first quarter to claim a 10-3 advantage.
Idaho drove into the red zone early in the second quarter, but a fumble at the two-yard line was recovered by USA. The Jaguars marched for three first downs in four plays, before the Vandal defense made a big play. Freshman linebacker Christian Elliss made a leaping interception and rumbled down field for a 31-yard return. A late hit gave tacked on another nine yards and Idaho’s offense took over at the eight.
Aaron Duckworth plowed through two defenders and rolled into the end zone for a six-yard touchdown to tie the game. It was Duckworth’s second touchdown of the season and 11th of his career.
Just before halftime, South Alabama went 73 yards in 2:10 and kicked a go-ahead field goal with six seconds remaining in the second quarter. The victory marks the first time Idaho has come back from a halftime deficit to win since 2011.
Idaho heads into its first bye week with a 2-2 record. The Vandals will return to action Oct. 7, for Homecoming against Louisiana-Lafayette at the Kibbie Dome.