I imagine that Paul Petrino made a vow to himself after Idaho’s 42-0 loss to Washington State in 2013, the conclusion of which haunted his dreams and cemented the night of mostly forgettable football in the Palouse’s shared memory.
“From now on, I’ll always find a way to score in garbage time,” he probably didn’t say, but I’d like to think he did.
It’s become known simply and affectionately as “The Handshake Game,” because of a few words exchanged between Paul Petrino and WSU coach Mike Leach.
Quick back story: The Cougars were seeking the pep that’d come with their first shutout in a decade; Petrino was dead-set on preventing that from happening, and scoring with half a quarter left, as his Vandals tend to do.
Leach had some backups in; Petrino didn’t. Once UI penetrated Cougar territory, the Wazzu starters started to trickle back on the field.
Long story short: The Vandals were stalemated at the WSU 1 on fourth down with 25 ticks to go.
When they met at midfield, Petrino was, uh, none too happy with his Pullman neighbor; Leach looked taken aback before returning the favor.
In retrospect, it was a fondly remembered, can’t-forget moment in Palouse sports history. And in jest, I picture it changed the course of UI football.
Between then and Saturday, the Vandals lived by the guru’s fresh mantra: “No matter what happens,” they’d be fictionally preached, “even if you’re down 40, you must score in the fourth. We cannot be whitewashed.”
They went 73 games without another goose egg, saw a nice bump in the middle, but even in their lowest dips, they’d refuse to take a blowout without swiping some sweet, savory, meaningless points from defenders who were just happy to be out there.
Eventually, the Vandals evolved into garbage-time kings; champions of the reserves; lords of the walk-ons. For those that’ve been following along closely since Idaho’s re-entrance as the “big bully” of the Big Sky, you know just how clutch the 2018 team was in the fourth quarter, when the game was safely out of its reach.
UI couldn’t get shut out. Oh, it’s 38-0 late? Bam, two pointless scores to fluff the numbers. UI might not have 200 yards by the end of the third, but it’d tack on an extra 150-plus in the final frame so to avoid the stink of a skunking.
In 2018, Idaho outgained its league opponents 588-233 and outscored them 35-10 in fourth quarters against reserves during four eventual routs suffered.
It’s why Saturday’s 24-0 loss was Petrino’s night terror. I suppose it gave the seventh-year coach shivers in recollection of that clear Pullman night long ago, only four weeks into his inaugural season.
Portland State wouldn’t let Idaho score in garbage time either, so the Vikings could post their own landmark doughnut.
This one hurt more, starting with the fact that the first was at a Pac-12 stadium and Saturday’s was staged at a literal high school field.
Look how far they’ve come.
Also, either out of spite or solely because it could, PSU tallied some garbage points, and did so at about the same time the Vandals generally do (or, did) — with maybe a minute left, the fans mostly departed and there would be no humanly possible comeback.
This time, for the first time in who knows how long, Petrino didn’t even get the chance to point out any offensive group or individual who fared well.
To sum up his postgame comments: UI was poor from every angle on O, and on the coaching front, which again entered unprepared and got outclassed by a team with objectively less talent, despite the Vandals’ injuries.
Say it was 24-10 — that result would weigh the same on an onlooker’s mind, but would the postgame takeaways shift more toward positivity?
No positive takeaways on this end, but maybe a “sorry about that” extended to the defense.
UI only got into scoring position twice — it turned it over once and missed a field goal two quarters later. Its first garbage-time drive ended in a fourth-down sack.
Early in the third, its coach faced another bad dream and had to come to grips, pulling his son from the quarterback post to see if Colton Richardson’s big arm could “find a spark” in UI’s slouching, hampered and starless attack.
After getting a pick out of the way, he kind of did, but only went as far as that series ending with a missed kick, then another when he took two sacks in enemy territory.
UI’s last-ditch, Hail Mary attempt at the end zone was picked off, a fitting capper to the end of the Vandals’ half-decade reign as champions of the final frame.
I wouldn’t worry too much, though. There’ll be plenty more chances to rebuild their garbage-time prowess.
Colton Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.