THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Vandal stunner ‘puts Big Sky on notice’

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Idaho’s decisive victory over Eastern Washington — or, in the first half, some guys wearing white jerseys and gray pants representing the university — on Saturday didn’t officially count in the Big Sky football standings.

But yes, it counted.

It counted in the hearts and minds of the Idaho Vandals, who spoke of wanting redemption after getting drubbed by EWU 38-14 last year in Cheney.

“They just kicked our tails last year; it was embarrassing,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “I didn’t do a good job of coaching last year. I was not going to go out there and do that bad of a job as a coach again.”

On Saturday, Idaho manhandled EWU in the first half, built a 28-0 lead and settled for a 35-27 victory at the Kibbie Dome.

“Last year was personal; just the way they played and we didn’t come out ready to play,” Idaho linebacker Christian Elliss said. “We had a little bit of an anger from last year. It (Saturday’s game) was personal. We wanted to destroy them, we wanted to bury them, we wanted to put them in the dirt.”

When each team’s eight Big Sky games were announced, Idaho and EWU weren’t scheduled to meet. But both teams had the same open date during the nonconference, so they elected to play anyway.

“You know, you get lucky enough you don’t have to play them (in conference),” Petrino said. “But then you decide to play them non conference. That wasn’t my decision. But it worked out good.”

IDAHO OPENED the season by collecting a $1.45 million check for playing Penn State and taking a 79-13 pounding.

The Vandals then had to rally to beat Central Washington, a pretty good Division II team. Last week Idaho had its chances to beat Wyoming before falling 21-16 in Laramie.

“After the Penn State game, they came to work,” Paul Petrino said. “They played their tails off against Wyoming. They played their hearts out this week.”

Petrino said he was happy for everybody — his assistants, and his family.

“I’m happy for my son (Mason; the Vandals’ starting quarterback), who most people in here (media) don’t like,” Petrino said. “But he plays his butt off, and he competes. And he’s a good player. You know, at some point, people might be able to say that.”

You could say that on Saturday. Mason Petrino was a big reason the Vandal offense kept the Eagle offense off the field for much of the first half. He was only sacked once in the game, he escaped several others and ran for what he could, and he found a way to get the ball to wide receiver Jeff Cotton pretty much whenever he needed to.

Mason Petrino, for his part, said he’s not bothered by what people say about him on social media.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I’ve deleted all my social media accounts. The guys in this locker room, it’s all love. So they can say whatever they want, those keyboard warriors.”

IDAHO WAS picked to finish eighth in the Big Sky, by the coaches and those hateful media. But now, after beating the preseason favorite in Eastern, perhaps the bar should be higher in Moscow, with conference play beginning next week at Northern Colorado.

“I feel like we can win out,” Cotton said. “It (the win) gives us a lot of confidence. I know a lot of people didn’t expect us to win this game. It (the win) puts the Big Sky on notice.”

“We’re playing with a swagger; that should scare some people,” Mason Petrino said. “Yeah, I think a lot of people are going to turn their heads. We’ve got something special here now and I’m really excited for it. You can feel the vibe, and you can feel the swagger.”

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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