Missed FG Dooms Idaho in Playoff Opener

“Wide left.”

Those two words proved to be the knockout punch for Idaho’s aspirations of advancing to the second round of the FCS postseason.

With the squad trailing 45-42 in the closing seconds of Saturday’s playoff matchup with Southeastern Louisiana, junior Ricardo Chavez lined up for a 39-yard field goal with the hope of sending the back-and-forth contest to overtime. Instead, he appeared to slip on the turf of Strawberry Field and his kick sailed wide of the goalposts, handing the Lions a victory in front of a crowd of 3,174 fans in Hammond, Louisiana.

“A lot of the things they did tonight were our recipe for winning,” Idaho coach Jason Eck said after the loss. “They ran more plays and they won the turnover margin.”

The defeat overshadowed a herculean effort from redshirt sophomore Hayden Hatten, who hauled in nine catches for a career-high 209 yards and a touchdown. The Vandals were also buoyed by five receptions and 111 yards from fellow Big Sky First Team wideout Jermaine Jackson—who returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“Those two receivers are some special cats,” Eck said of the duo. “It was a battle of good against good tonight. I thought they had some solid defensive backs. What a good football game, I mean that’s what a playoff game should be.”

Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy returned from an injury to tally 343 yards on 19-of-26 passing. The redshirt freshman also connected for a pair of touchdowns but was picked twice in the loss.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Eck said. “I thought we showed that we are really mentally tough. There were a few times that we could’ve folded up the tent when things didn’t go our way, but we never did.”

The defensive line struggled to contain the Southeastern Louisiana rushing attack, as Jessie Britt averaged 8.2 yards per carry and racked up 106 yards on the night. Cephus Johnson III and Carlos Washington Jr. each added a pair of scores on the ground while Nick Kovacs caught the lone touchdown through the air for the Lions.

“We’re one of the final sixteen teams left,” Southeastern Louisiana coach Frank Scelfo said. “To be able to constantly be in this position says a lot about our program.”

The matchup ultimately came down to Idaho’s final drive after senior linebacker Fa’Avae Fa’Avae stopped Johnson III short of the marker and All-American punter Austin Dunlap shanked the ensuing boot for only 18 yards. A facemask penalty on the Lions several plays later put the ball on the 22-yard-line with just 11 seconds left in the game, setting up the ill-fated kick from Chavez.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Eck said. “I thought we showed that we are really mentally tough. There were a few times that we could’ve folded up the tent when things didn’t go our way, but we never did.”

Despite the disappointing result, the squad ends the year with a 7-5 record and a 6-2 showing against Big Sky opponents. But most importantly, the Vandals can hold their heads high after securing the program’s first FCS postseason bid since 1995.

“Our seniors are leaving a great legacy,” Eck said.

AROUND THE BIG SKY (PLAYOFF EDITION):

Weber State 38, North Dakota 31 — Josh Davis and Damon Bankston combined for 251 yards rushing and three touchdowns to lead the Wildcats into a second-round rematch with Montana State.

Montana 34, Southeast Missouri 24 — After facing a 21-point deficit, the Griz used a kickoff return from Malik Flowers in the third quarter to rattle off 31 unanswered points. Montana advances to a showdown with North Dakota State next weekend.

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