MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho's Vandals improved to 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the Sun Belt Conference after Saturday's 38-31 victory over South Alabama at the Kibbie Dome.
Sophomore running back Isaiah Saunders again had the hot hand with 23 carries for a career-high 142 yards and three touchdowns. Senior receiver Callen Hightower, back to full strength for the first time in nearly two months, led the receivers with five catches for 111 yards as junior quarterback Matt Linehan completed 17 of 34 passes for 231 touchdowns.
"There's so much confidence in this locker room, in this building at this point," said Linehan, who threw for two scores but was intercepted three times. "It's exciting to see that no matter what is going on, we're confident we can win ballgames."
The game came down to the final drive of the fourth quarter – again. Again, the Vandals held on to win. A defensive stand that started with South Alabama pinned to its own four by an Austin Rehkow punt wound up with Russell Siavii batting down a pass in the end zone. The Jaguars (5-6, 1-6) drove into Idaho territory to set up a succession of plays the Vandals successfully thwarted time and again.
"I do believe our kids believe," coach Paul Petrino said, "that we will wear people out in the fourth quarter. Those were just two great stops in the fourth quarter.
"We felt we were going to get their best shot because they were playing to go to a bowl game. It was one of their better shots. We just kept fighting and fighting. It was a great job by our players. Again, how proud I am of all our assistant coaches - did a great job of getting them prepared and ready to win."
Junior linebacker Tony Lashley and senior safety Jayshawn Jordan were forces – Lashley with 14 tackles and Jordan with 11. Senior lineman Tueni Lupeamanu and sophomore linebacker Ed Hall had nine each with Hall accounting for three tackles-for-loss and Lupeamanu adding two quarterback hurries. Sophomore Kaden Elliss and freshman Ty Graham each had an interception
The Vandals now have won three in a row and five of their last six.
"We've all been through some tough times together," Petrino said. "The more tough times that you've went through makes you tougher. Iron sharps iron. We're a pretty darn tough team right now."
The Vandals, with their most victories since 2009, wrap up the regular-season next Saturday at home against Georgia State.