Halloween, 2015: The Vandals squandered a 23-point halftime cushion (a 19-point fourth-quarter buffer) in an eventual overtime loss at New Mexico State. That night, the Aggies scored their first win in 17 tries.
Fast forward one week: Idaho is in Mobile, Ala., where it proceeded to blow a 24-7 edge at the break and lose 52-45 to South Alabama. Say bye-bye to bowl hopes.
And of course, who can forget that October afternoon in ’17, when the Vandals once more flipped a switch in the second half, and collapsed 23-20 at home to Appy State after frittering away a 20-0 advantage.
They’re just a few of the program’s recent late-stage meltdowns. All of them were surprising at the time, but they can take a back seat.
For starters, at least those were decent teams. Even NMSU turned out to be OK.
Right, and all were Petrino-fueled, but none but the latest — Idaho’s ugly-to-the-max 27-24 loss to FCS cellar-dweller Northern Colorado — featured a 1-2 family punch. What’s more, it was against quite possibly the worst team UI’s lost to in a decade. And the funny thing is, you could kind of feel it coming in the third, not entirely like those last three, the first two of which seemed like sure-fire wins then.
Chalk it up to this contemporary “Vandal factor,” the precedent that’s been set via breakdowns in six of the last seven years. That is, restore some hope, then snuff it out promptly.
This one was unique and objectively, pretty comical. It was a special kind of absurd, where you can’t help but slap your face, shake your head and mutter, “Of course they did.” It was unlike one of those simple third- or fourth-quarter crashes.
It came a week after UI upended heavy favorite Eastern Washington, after almost blowing a 28-0 lead. Seventh-year coach Paul Petrino burst down the media-room doors and put us in our place. We were all wrong to doubt the 2019 Vandals, and especially wrong to doubt Petrino’s playing of his senior son at quarterback.
That’s some bad timing (but a bit amusing).
Yes, Mason Petrino had a fine outing then, helping boost his team vs. the No. 11 Eagles.
No, he did not repeat it, instead reverting back to a few qualities that’d garnered Paul Petrino ire from the Idaho faithful for his decision to develop and start the former wide receiver behind center.
Save a pair of nifty, scrambling TDs to Cutrell Haywood, the younger Petrino had arguably his most grueling in-league passing day as a Vandal — he ran soundly — against the 112th-ranked national passing defense. He short-armed two across-the-body red-zone interceptions into swaths of Bears, and after, tossed another directly at a defender to kick off and end a late-fourth-quarter series that Idaho really needed to reorient itself.
That last interception Paul Petrino claimed was a fault in the play call.
Rebounding from a 14-point third-quarter deficit, UNC booted a field goal to snatch its first lead since its first touchdown, the kick being the decider.
A minute later, instead of making an effort in a manageable fourth-and-2 situation, Mason Petrino apparently popped off a little after a pass-interference no-call, and said something the zebras didn’t like. Paul Petrino, always the family man, made sure the refs heard it a second time.
Game essentially over, and fuel effectively added to the fire of all those detractors that’d been called out seven days prior.
I’ve seen some of the more optimistic folks blaming poor officiating, but that’s a weak argument when you leave three scores on the field, commit a whopping 130 yards of penalties — c’mon, not all of that was wrong — and consistently offer an opposing QB confidence, providing him a breakout day with momentum and blown coverages.
And do it all with virtually the same personnel that’d logged UI’s best win in three years.
But you know what? It’s tough to pin it on the quarterback when the head man has been notorious in steering these kinds of distress vessels (see above), to the point where there were just as many saying “I told you so” as there were, “I can’t believe we lost to these guys,” who’d been trampled 50-0 by Sacramento State two weeks ago.
UI’s quarterback was obviously flustered; its offense only managed one first down in the fourth; its defense was fading and the rushing game that’d averaged 6.9 yards per carry was becoming less relied on, oddly.
Perhaps regarding one or more of those aspects, it was time for a change.
Most are pointing the finger at Paul Petrino for his Vandal teams’ tendencies to flounder post-intermission. At least some solace can be taken in the fact that he is too.
The first thing he said after the defeat was: “It was a terrible job by me,” that he didn’t prepare his team well, made too many bad calls and let UI play undisciplined.
Overconfident, maybe? Interesting, considering UI appears to pride itself on an underdog, us-against-the-world state, with a chip on its shoulder. If that’s the case, slight optimism followed by letdown meltdowns cannot continue being the norm.
Colton Clark may be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.