Vandals Triumph in Las Cruces

In a game fitting for a Halloween weekend, and a night where the Vandals put up 582 yards of total offense, Idaho (2-3 WAC, 2-6) prevailed 38-37 Saturday night over New Mexico State (0-4 WAC, 0-8) in double-overtime on a gutsy two-point conversion.

It's the last play of a double-overtime game, and everything comes down to this one instant. New Mexico State had just taken a 37-30 lead on their overtime possession and were preparing to celebrate a Homecoming victory, which would also mark their first win of the year. Undaunted, Idaho scored on their possesion to draw the score to 37-36 on a dramatic 20-yard scoring pass.

It would all come down to this one coversion. Idaho had made the decision to go for two at this point, and head coach Nick Holt and his young Vandals were either going to win this game or lose it on this one play.

Ironically, in a way, they did both.

The Vandal defense was showing signs of having trouble stopping the Aggie offense late in the game. Conversely, the Idaho offense was having the best night of this 2005 season (including career, and record setting, performances by quarterback Steve Wichman and wide receiver Daniel Smith). One could easily reason that this was the right decision. It was Wichman and Smith that had hooked up on the 20-yard pass play to get Idaho to this point. Why not let the Vandal offense finish the job?

As the conversion attempt unfolded, the pocket began to breakdown and Wichman was forced to roll out to his right. With his attention focused on junior wide receiver Wendell Octave 3-yards in the endzone, also running to his right, Wichman took his shot. In heavy traffic the ball was knocked away, and with it the game had seemingly drawn to a dramatic close.

At least until the ever-present officiating crew had their say. Although Idaho had been flagged a remarkable 13 times for 127 yards, at this most critical of times it would be NMSU who would be guilty of an infraction. Replays of the play (telecast live on the "Go Vandals Network" and on ESPN GamePlan) showed Aggie defender Courtney Bryan lined up almost a yard offsides. Idaho gained a rare second chance, and this time the Vandals would prevail.

With the ball now a yard and a half closer to the goal, Wichman again dropped back to throw. D.J. Smith ran a crossing pattern a couple yards deep in the endzone, and Wichman heaved a perfectly thrown pass that threaded between two Aggie defenders and into Smith's grasp.

BOTH outcomes happened, but this time it was the outcome that favored the Vandals that would stick. The outburst of emotion on the Idaho sideline culminated with the entire Vandal football team mobbing the offense in the endzone. The scene was topped by Holt and staff leaping onto the pile to celebrate with the team.

The play and the scene afterwards earned Idaho a coveted spot on the ESPN Top 10 Plays Of The Day list, which aired into the night Saturday and will air Sunday morning and early afternoon.

Yes, this is still an 0-8 Aggie team in the midst of some serious struggles right now. But more often than not these wins (i.e. on the road, overcoming setbacks, and getting a couple breaks along the way) were few and far between during the Sun Belt era for Idaho.

This will be something the team can build on to close out this year.

Something else the team can build on is an amazing performance by several Vandals, highlighted by the following:

- Junior quarterback Steve Wichman completed 35 of 54 attempts for 489 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a long of 75 yards.

- Junior wide receiver D.J. Smith caught 11 passes for 269 yards (all-time Vandal single game receiving record), with 2 touchdowns including a long of 75 yards.

- Senior middle linebacker Cole Snyder had 17 tackles on the night, 3 tackles for loss including TWO sacks, and he recovered a fumble.

- Junior field goal kicker Mike Barrow converted all 3 of his field goal attempts (47, 31, and 19 yards), converted all 4 of his PATs, and in the punting department averaged 43.3 yards per punt, including pinning the Aggies inside their own 20 yard line twice.

There were many other noteworthy accomplishments in this game by a host of other Vandals that we will cover in the days ahead.

There were also a number of breakdowns defensively and on special teams that MUST be addressed before Louisiana Tech rolls into Moscow in two weeks. The Bulldogs are too good to not take advantage of these opportunities.

Likewise, despite Idaho spending so much time in Aggie territory, they were fortunate to overcome two turnovers DEEP in the Aggie redzone (both inside the NMSU 10-yard line). Against any other opponent, on any other night, the turnovers could have been costly.

But these are things that can be addressed as Idaho goes into its second bye-week of the season. The team is young (virtually the entire 2-deep depth chart returns next fall), and much of these mistakes will be addressed with experience.

For now, this is a victory for the team, and the staff, to savor.

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