MOSCOW It would have made for one incredible first win for Idaho coach Paul Petrino, but his Vandals upset bid fell a quarter short Saturday.
Petrinos team was tied up in the fourth quarter with Northern Illinois, an Orange Bowl team last season, but the Huskies scored the final 10 points in a 45-35 win in Idahos home opener.
The Vandals had lost by 66 points in their first two games, yet still feel an opportunity was missed.
Were getting better and Im happy with that, but just pull out a gun and shoot me in the head if Im happy with losing, Petrino said. Im proud of them, they keep getting better.
Idaho (0-3) led by 14 points twice in the first half and took a 28-21 lead into the locker room, but could only manage a 1-yard James Baker TD run with 14 minutes, 19 seconds to play in the second half, which tied it at 35-35.
I was surprised at their speed, but we knew they would come at us like this, Northern Illinois defensive end Perez Ford said.
The game featured five fumbles, with Northern Illinois recovering all three of Idahos and Idaho fell on both of the Huskies loose balls. The Huskies (2-0) turned the Vandals last fumble into Mathew Sims go-ahead 51-yard field goal with 10:49 to play after Baker coughed it up at Idahos own 34.
Thats the difference in the game thats a good football team, they were in a BCS bowl last year, they beat Iowa you cant fumble three times and think youre going to win against a good team, Petrino said. If we dont do that, we have a great opportunity to win.
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who last season became the only 3,000-yard passer and 1,500-yard rusher in the same season in FBS history, accounted for five touchdowns. He completed 17-of-29 passes for 152 yards with three touchdown passes and ran for 159 yards on 23 attempts, scoring twice.
Lynchs third touchdown pass, a 13-yarder to tight end Lucas Eakes with 7:25 to play, capped off the scoring.
Im really happy with the way they responded to all of the adversity, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said. The fourth quarter is what we pride ourselves on. If its a fourth-quarter game, we have that belief that we are going to come through.
The Vandals used big plays to their advantage with two touchdown passes from Chad Chalich, covering 27 and 37 yards, along with a 37-yard touchdown run by backup Josh McCain that made it 28-14 with 9:35 left before halftime. The Huskies scored 21 unanswered points, taking the lead back on Lynchs 61-yard touchdown run with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
Once they have a little bit of momentum, weve got to be able to take it away earlier than we did, Idaho linebacker Broc Westlake said.
Idaho, which had scored two touchdowns in its first two games, had 441 yards of offense, but also yielded nine sacks. The Vandals came into the game having allowed an FBS-worst 12 sacks.
Our coach really emphasized pass rush, emphasized that we could get after them, that we were a better D-line than they were O-line, said Ford, who had four tackles for loss, including two sacks.
Chalich completed 13-of-24 passes for 218 yards, while Baker led the way with 73 yards rushing and added 37 yards receiving, scoring three touchdowns. Dezmon Epps had eight catches for 106 yards for Idaho. Tommylee Lewis had 104 yards rushing on four carries and had nine catches for 56 yards for the Huskies.
Clearly not a fan of moral victories, Petrino mixed disappointment with optimism after losing 40-6 and 42-10 in his first two games at the helm.
Were improving were a heck of a lot better football team than we were at North Texas, than we were at Wyoming, he said. but if youre good and bad, youre not going to beat Northern Illinois. Theyre too good of a football team. We showed great improvement, but weve got a ways to go still to be tough enough and to have enough courage to fight through the whole thing and find a way to win.