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Vandals win with late heroics

by From wire and news services
| December 5, 2010 8:00 PM

MOSCOW — Eric Greenwood was grinning as he saw the ball coming his way on third down and 8. In overtime. On Senior Day.

The entirety of the Kibbie Dome — with the exception of the San Jose State Spartans and their fans, was smiling and shouting and cheering moments later when he scampered across the goal line with Nathan Enderle’s pass to score from 23 yards out and lift the Idaho Vandals to the 26-23 victory in a dramatic Western Athletic Conference football game before a crowd of 8,011.

“As soon as I went out there and I saw what defense they were playing, I knew it was going to be a completion,” said Greenwood, who punctuated the catch by slam dunking the ball over the goalpost crossbar. “I didn’t know the safety was going to miss the tackle. When he did, I just started smiling. I knew it was a touchdown.”

In the Vandals’ first overtime game since 2005, Enderle had a reason for going to the 6-foot-6 Greenwood — the first committment at Idaho for coach Robb Akey, in his fourth season.

“He’s been clutch for us all year,” said Enderle, who along with Greenwood and 13 other seniors celebrated their final home football game with a victory for the first time since 2004. “He’s a big-play receiver. He ran a great route, made the guy miss then scooted in the end zone and dunked it.”

Then he was mobbed by his teammates and coaches as the Vandals put the wrap on a 6-7 season (3-5 WAC). The six victories in 2010, added to the eight in 2009, gave this year’s class the most victories over a two-year span since the 1998-99 group had 16.

However, it wouldn’t have been possible at all had it not been for a heroic special teams play to end regulation. With the scored knotted at 20, the Spartans ran the clock down to the final two ticks before sending in Harrison Waid for a 26-yard field goal attempt. As the ball launched, first junior college transfer Thaad Thompson, then Greenwood, hit it to deflect it off course and send the game into the extra session.

“You need plays like that,” said Enderle, who was 16 of 30 for 250 yards. “Not every game is going to be a blowout. Not every game is going to be a sound victory. Sometimes you have to win with stuff like that. That was a huge play by our special teams. That’s a game-breaker. They gave us another chance.”

San Jose State (1-12, 0-8) did score on its overtime possession on Harrison’s 39-yard kick but, this time, the Vandals weren’t to be denied.

“I’m proud of this football team for getting the job taken care of today,” Akey said. “We continued to play and did what we needed to do to win the game. That blocked field goal was huge. What matters is the plays we made. We made the plays we needed to to win.”

Early on, the Vandal offense struggled while the defense kept things close but the Spartans still managed a 13-3 lead on Brandon Rutley’s 13-yard run with 8:41 left in the third quarter.

The Vandals responded five minutes later when Troy Vital crossed over from the 1 with 3:24 to go in the third, then took the lead on Justin Veltung’s 37-yard romp to open the fourth. With Trey Farquhar’s PAT, the Vandals led 17-13 with 14:50 to play.

Farquhar made it 20-13 with a 32-yard field goal with 7:14 to play but the Spartans responded with a 6-yard Jordan LaSecla pass to Ryan Otten with 4:35 remaining to set the stage for the end-of-the-game drama.

Enter a smiling defensive end Aaron Lavarias into the post-game interview room.

“In typical Vandal fashion,” he said to laughter from the assembled reporters. “We haven’t won a senior game in so long. It was emotional before the game knowing this was going to be our last game. To lose it like that would have eaten me up the rest of my life.

“It was the perfect way to go out in my Vandal career. ... That’s our style — to keep people on the edges of their seats.”

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