Only one thing mattered at the end of the game – the Idaho Vandals won, 20-17, over Montana State University before an enthusiastic Thursday night crowd.
The credit for this home- and season-opening victory went the to the defense and a running game fueled by junior Aaron Duckworth, who toted the ball 14 times for 108 yards and both of the Vandals’ touchdowns. All told, Duckworth and his backfield mates covered 225 yards on the ground with quarterback Matt Linehan picking up 41.
Idaho’s defensive focus was to shut down the Bobcats’ running game. Although slippery back Chad Newell went for 105 yards on 25 carries, MSU netted just 110 on the ground.
“That’s the best defense we’ve played since I’ve been here,” coach Paul Petrino said. “Our defense really stepped up. Offensively, we rushed for 225 yards. We found two ways to win. That’s the most important thing.”
Senior defensive lineman Tueni Lupeamanu was a big part of that effort with eight tackles.
“That’s what we’ve been working on,” he said. “I’m really proud of our defense.”
Defensive heroes were all over the field. In addition to Lupeamanu’s eight stops, junior Tony Lashley had a team-best nine, which included three tackles for -11 yards in losses. Senior safety Russell Siavii started 2016 the same way he ended 2015 – with an impactful interception. He added three pass breakups and five tackles to his day. Defensive lineman Aikeem Coleman was a backfield menace with five quarterback hurries.
Of course, Austin Rehkow was a study in consistency with field goals of 34 and 44 yards.
While Petrino acknowledged, he’d like more balance in his offense, he reiterated what mattered most.
“We’re leaving here with a win,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”