Idaho reciever Jeff Cotton (right) crosses into the end zone for a touchdown against Central Washington University on Saturday.

Football’s a game of attrition, and that’s usually the case when a Division I team plays one from Division II. Thing is, the lower-level team is generally worn to the point where it’s not anyone’s game with a few minutes left.

It took a while on Saturday. This D-II troupe often took advantage of sloppiness, had it tied for about half the game, scored on two wide-receiver sweep passes and for a quarter, simply outplayed its Football Championship Subdivision counterparts.

But FCS Idaho (1-1) eventually outmuscled Great Northwest Conference team Central Washington late, enough to claim a 41-31 victory at the Kibbie Dome.

“(The Wildcats) know how to play good football,” UI coach Paul Petrino said. “They’re well-coached, they play hard and do everything they’re supposed to.”

UI shot itself in the foot enough times to drain itself of confidence just before the half, but its touchdown with only a minute before the break was the “turning point,” Petrino said.

Quarterback Mason Petrino, who was 23-for-30 for 209 yards passing and two scores, placed a perfect back-shoulder ball to Jeff Cotton in the front of the end zone to tie it at 17.

“It just gives you confidence in the locker room,” Mason Petrino said. “Most games are won at the end of the second half or at the end of the game.”

That was after the Vandals had gone down by a score because of self-inflicted wounds and penalties, putting the defense in tough situations.

“I think we sputtered a couple of times,” Mason Petrino said. “Really, just hurting ourselves.”

It’s what allowed CWU to make things interesting after the Vandals had outmanned them methodically in the first 17 minutes of play, then in long-lasting spurts afterward.

Then, the Wildcats scored two touchdowns in a span of four minutes.

First, they chalked up receiver-to-receiver touchdown No. 1, a long heave from Jojo Hillel to Tony Archie, who didn’t have a defender within 20 yards of him.

“Lost discipline, got their eyes in the backfield and lost their guys,” Paul Petrino said.

Not a minute after, Cotton fumbled a kickoff return. Three snaps later, CWU freshman quarterback Canon Racanelli flipped one in the back-corner of the end zone, right over the head of Jalen Hoover in coverage.

As if that didn’t incite enough anger from the crowd, Colton Richardson, in for only part of the second quarter, tried to force a throw which was easily intercepted. It led to a field goal, thanks to a stout showing by the Idaho front seven, which had just one sack but clamped down on CWU’s inside rushing attack throughout much of the game. The Wildcats’ success came on sporadic big gains, many through the air.

“The defense made plays when they had to,” Paul Petrino said. “There’s a lot of new guys. The more they play together, the more they jell, the better they’ll be.”

Richardson only played two sloppy drives, while Mason Petrino fared well and seemed to have earned himself the starting nod. He slipped backfield pressure in the first half and kept drives alive, providing his receivers time to find space.

The Vandals didn’t trail again, although CWU refused to go down quietly.

Where UI succeeded was with Cotton in single coverage. He was targeted more than everyone, and finished with 16 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns, his second — another deep fade — coming late in the third to push UI’s lead to 31-24.

Cotton's 16 grabs are the program's No. 2 mark all-time for receptions in a game, behind 17, set in 1969 by Jerry Hendren.

“That’s a huge weapon when me and him are connecting on those,” Mason Petrino said.

With a one-score lead, the team was content to sit on the ball and let the running back duo of Aundre Carter and Roshaun Johnson do the tackle-breaking and bruising, which they did a lot of.

Carter had 123 yards and his first two career scores on 17 attempts, and Roshaun Johnson tallied 111 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

The two were too much to handle, particularly in the fourth. Yet down 10 with seven minutes left, the Wildcats again connected on trickeration — this time, it was a double-reverse throw. And this time, it was Archie to Hillel. Again, the UI secondary was caught off guard.

It wasn’t enough, as the Vandals forced four three-and-outs in the fourth quarter, the deciding one coming right before they capped it with a 27-yard Carter score with a little more than two minutes left.

Force won, but it was too close for comfort.

“That’s how we have to win most games,” Paul Petrino said. “If we get to the fourth, we have a chance to win.”

Clark may be reached at, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.

Idaho 41, CWU 31

Players of the game

* Idaho quarterback MASON PETRINO took the majority of reps, and set himself apart. He was 23-of-30 for 209 yards and two scores, and also added 44 yards on the ground (not counting sacks). He often provided his receivers extra time to get open and converted a few game-changing fourth downs.

* The Vandals’ running back duo of AUNDRE CARTER and ROSHAUN JOHNSON were “just hot,” coach Paul Petrino said. It’s why they had the ball in their hands more than anyone else, and for good reason. The two combined for 234 yards and three touchdowns, each averaging more than six yards per carry against an outmatched CWU front seven. Although, the two credited UI’s offensive line.

* Central Washington constantly lined a corner over JEFF COTTON in single coverage, which time and again proved to be a mistake. Cotton shrugged off corners consistently and tripled the amount of receptions (16) as his closest teammate. Cotton outmanned the opposition for two touchdowns on fades and ended up with 145 yards.

Up next

Idaho visits Wyoming at 2 p.m. Pacific on Saturday.

Recommended for you