Vandals starters make light work of reserves in finale

Idaho wide receiver Callen Hightower (6) scores a touchdown during the Silver and Gold Game on Friday at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.

My obligations to our Daily News sports desk made it difficult for me take photos, or do much blogging after last night’s Silver and Gold Spring Game.

But, because I care about you guys so much, I’ve provided you my story from today’s paper. And a post practice video of Paul Petrino.


Idaho’s spring football finale had a family vibe to it. But not like a game of catch between a father and son in the backyard, more like a viscous game of tackle between siblings.

On Friday, the annual Silver and Gold, which marks the 15th and final spring practice of the offseason, the Silver team — made up of first-string players — played the role of the much older, stronger and more talented brother. The Gold team, primarily reserves, served as a the sacrificial younger cub, trying valiantly, but ultimately taking a pounding from its immediate elder.

The final tally was Silver 81, Gold 10, a lopsided result coach Paul Petrino expected when he crafted the two teams.

“The score wasn’t as important to me as much as people out there executing where you want them to execute,” Petrino said. “I think that happened. I’m hoping when I watch the tape tonight or tomorrow morning I’ll be happy.”

For now, the first-team has plenty to smile about.

Aaron Duckworth and his two running mates in the offensive backfield — Denzal Brantley and Isaiah Saunders — had no problem knifing through the defense, shedding tackles and practically jogging into the end zone for scores. Duckworth led the group with 161 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries — an average of 12.4 yards per rush.

“It felt great going out there and showing what I can do and how hard I’ve been working this spring,” Duckworth said.

Quarterback Jake Luton and his three primary pass-catchers — Deon Watson, Jacob Sannon and Callen Hightower — successfully executed a four-man aerial assault on the defense. Luton was efficient, completing 32 of his 47 passes for 591 yards and five touchdowns. He was intercepted once. Hightower (five catches, 167 yards) and Sannon (six catches, 148 yards) each cracked the century mark through the air, exploding for big plays with ease.

Hightower had two scores, including a 76-yard catch-and-run, the longest scoring play of the evening. On that particular route, the 5-foot-10 speedster took a short pass from Luton, then bolted by the defense, untouched, for a walk-in touchdown.

“We’re explosive. We got a lot of guys that can make plays,” said Watson, who hauled in six balls for 87 yards and two touchdowns. “We’re going to be a threat in the Sun Belt.”

This time last year, star wideout Dezmon Epps was the senior offensive threat for the Vandals, owning a special combination of speed, adhesive hands and precise route running. Watson has stepped into that role now, using his wide receiver tight end duality to confuse — and terrorize — defenses.

“I’ve gotten comfortable with my position. Not too comfortable, obviously, but just comfortable with what I’m doing and what I have to do in the offense,” Watson said. “That transition to tight end took me awhile with the playbook but I got a year underneath my belt and I’m good now.”

The defense was good, too.

Backup quarterback Gunnar Amos, the leader of the little brother Gold unit, wasn’t live, meaning his safety remains — at least as far as we know — perfectly fine.

But that wouldn’t have been the case had the defense been permitted to tackle him. Tueni Lupeamanu, Khalin Smith and Kaden Elliss were each credited with one “sack” each, and that’s a modest tally, to say the least. The backup offensive line had no answer for Elliss and Smith’s spin moves off the edge, and there were several occasions where they practically had a free run at Amos, who was 18 of 32 for 121 yards, a touchdown and a pick-six by Elijah Williams. 

“That means I’m doing my job if they’re coming in free,” Lupeamanu said. “We call it eating potatoes. I’m out here in Idaho eating potatoes.”

They made sure not to be too rough with little brother, though. Lupeamanu initially answered “yes” when asked if it felt like he wanted to lay a hit on Amos, then immediately altered his response, for an understandable reason.

“No,” he said, “because I know the repercussions of what Coach (Petrino) would make us do tomorrow.”

Michael-Shawn Dugar can be reached at (208) 883-4629, by email to or on Twitter to @MikeDugar.

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