Vandals hang tough but fall to UNT

Idaho true freshman wide receiver <b>Desmond Belton</b> eclipsed 150 receiving yards against North Texas on Saturday night, while senior TE Willie Sipoloa filled in admirably at RB in Idaho's depleted backfield, but it was too much to overcome as Idaho fell in Denton, TX 51-29 to the Sun Belt Champions.

DENTON, TX - Though they fell behind by 13 points in the first 7 minutes of action, the Idaho Vandals nearly overcame a mountain of obstacles the Vandals closing to within one touchdown three times -- the last with 6:12 left in the game -- before eventually falling to Sun Belt Conference champion North Texas 51-29 here Saturday night.

The main obstacle the Vandals faced was Jamario Thomas, the nation's leading rusher who broke a 70-yard TD run on a sweep around left end on the third play of the game to set the tone for the evening. Thomas cruised to 291 yards on 28 carries on the night. While Thomas and his Eagle teammates racked up 334 rushing yards on the night, the Vandals found themselves out of tailbacks nearing the end of the second quarter. Jayson Byrd left the game with an injury after one carry and fellow freshman Rollie Lumbala also exited with an injury (junior Antwaun Sherman was injured during the week and did not make the trip). Lumbala's exit forced the Vandals to move Willie Sipoloa to tailback. The 6-2, 260-pound senior responded by netting 54 yards and a TD on 15 carries and quarterback Michael Harrington opened up the passing attack completing 24 of 42 for 328 yards (including 12 to Bobbie Bernal-Woods for 137 yards and 8 to freshman Desmond Belton for 156 yards), but it wasn't quite enough to overcome the Eagles 334 rushing yards.

After Thomas blasted up the middle for a 31-yard score making it 13-0 at the 6-minute mark of the first period, the Vandals launched their comeback bid taking the ensuing kickoff and mounting a sustained drive moving from their 25 to the UNT 4 in eight plays, but from there 20 yards in penalties killed the momentum and a field goal attempt failed. An Eagle field goal on the subsequent possession built the lead to 16-0, but the Vandals mounted their first scoring drive moving 51 yards in 2:25 with Sipoloa running at tailback and Harrington hooking up with Bernal-Woods for 3 completions covering 36 yards including a 4-yard TD pass over the middle with 2:28 left in the half. Harrington's pass to Luke Smith-Anderson cut the lead to 16-8.

The Eagles scored on their first two possessions of the 2nd half after an interception and a punt to extend the margin to 30-8, but the Vandals refused to fold and fought back to cut the lead to 30-14 on a sneak by Harrington with 2 minutes left in the third period. The Vandal defense stiffened and forced the Eagles to punt on their next possession and the Vandals again moved the ball against the UNT defense driving 80 yards in 14 plays capped by Sipoloa's 5-yard blast through the right side of the line. Harrington hit Ryan Heacock on the two-point conversion, and suddenly the Vandals had cut the lead to 30-22 with 10:35 left in the game and the Vandals threatened to seize the momentum.

Thomas, however, had other ideas. After Kevin Moore returned the ensuing kickoff to the Vandal 41, Thomas covered 32 of the remaining yards in 3 plays capping the drive with a 15-yard weakside run with just under 7 minutes remaining. Undaunted, the Vandals again drove against the Eagle moving 53 yards in 8 plays with Smith-Anderson taking a 6-yard scoring pass from Harrington with 2:46 left. Mike Barrow's kick reduced the margin to 37-29.

That was as close as the Vandals would come. Keyed by 34 yards in gains by Thomas, the Eagles went 85 yards in 10 plays to extend their margin to 15 with 4:32 left, and then an 18-yard interception return closed out the scoring with 46 seconds remaining.

After the game Vandal coach Nick Holt commended the determination shown by the Vandals, particularly the Vandal offense. "I'm really proud of the offense," coach Nick Holt said reeling off the names and the efforts of Harrington, Sipoloa and true freshman receiver Belton. "They played their butts off." Defensively Cole Snyder led the Vandals with 9 tackles and 4 assists, and a 14-yard sack.

Penalties were a factor keeping both teams from establishing any momentum throughout the night. The Vandals were flagged 11 times for 104 yards and the Eagles 15 times for 138.

The Vandals will close out the season this Saturday against Hawai'i.

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