Vandals Come Up Short in Finale

In a truely admirable effort Saturday, Idaho jumped out to a 24-14 halftime lead over the #2 team in the Sun Belt Conference, New Mexico State. But the Vandals were outscored 21-7 in the second half, and lost a heartbreaker by 4 points late in the fourth quarter in The Dome. It was the last game for 19 Vandal seniors, led by runningback <b>Blair Lewis</b>, and our hats go off to all of them, and the entire team, for their effort Saturday.

In a season that has been long, it all came to an end Saturday in Moscow as Idaho fell to its oldest conference rival, New Mexico State by a score of 31-35. Individually, the effort by several departing seniors was admirable, headlined by the following:

Jordan Kramer - Led all tacklers with 17 tackles on the day, including 5 solo take-downs and 1 tackle for loss. For the season, Jordan has 127 tackles, good enough for a 9th place tie with Jerry Medved's 1987 mark on the All-Time Vandal Single Season record book. He moves ahead of Sam Merriman's 1982 mark of 125 tackles. An outstanding effort, to say the least.

Blair Lewis - Ran for 162 yards on 20 carries, with 2 TDs and a long of 39 yards. He will end his 2002 season with 930 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns in 10 games. He's been, without a doubt, one of the most exciting players to watch over the past 2 seasons.

Talifaia Atoe - Number 2 tackler in the NMSU game with 9 tackles, including a QB sack. For this, his one and only season in Moscow, he ended as the #5 tackler on the team, with 51 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 6 quarterback sacks, 1 pass breakup, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles, and a blocked kick. We wish we could see him play one more year, but this year, statistically, must have been gratifying.

Among the underclassman, we tip our hats to the effort redshirt freshman Michael Harrington put in on the afternoon. In the first half, he guided Idaho to 3 touchdowns and a fieldgoal. For the day, he ended up completing 20 of 35 passes for 219 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The experience that he, and sophomore Adam Mallette, gained the past 3 weeks should be a true benefit to the team next season.

We also want to acknowledge the effort of junior punter Ryan Downes, who on 4 punts, placed 3 inside the opponents 20 yard line, and had a long of 53 yards. We've said all year long that he has been one of the most consistent players on the team, and it showed again Saturday.

As far as kickoff returners, junior Cedric Thompson had an excellent day with 136 yards on 6 returns, with a long of 36 yards. On the season, his 36 returns on the season is #1 All-Time at Idaho (ahead of Tom Pace's 1996 mark of 32). His 826 yards is #2 All-Time. He averaged 22.9 yards per return on the year, including a long of 63 yards.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Mike Anderson had just 1 tackle against NMSU, but he also had 2 pass deflections and recorded his first interception on the season. Overall, he ended 2002 as Idaho's #4 tackler on the a backup....with 54 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and 2 pass breakups. This Lewiston native should definitely be one to watch in the years ahead.

Finally, we want to acknowledge junior cornerback Rod Bryant, not so much for his 6 tackles and 1 pass breakup on the day, but for his #6 finish on the team in tackles with 51 overall (30 solo), 2 interceptions on the season, and 7 pass breakups this year. And, for a fun fact, his 86 yard punt return against ASU is #2 All-Time on the University of Idaho record books. Without a doubt, he will be a huge asset in this defensive backfield next fall.

Overall, we know that these guys gave everything they could this year, and things, for whatever reason(s), just didn't work out. But some definite progress was made, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Unlike a year ago, they were "in" all but 3 games they played this year, and were leading well into the second half of at least 5 games towards the end of the season. And, for all intents and purposes, this is still a fairly young team.

To the coaching staff, we wish them good luck this recruiting season. To the guys coming back next year, we wish them good luck in their off-season training drills in preparation for next year. And to the seniors, we want to thank you for your efforts in Moscow, and we wish you the best with wherever life leads you from this point forward.

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