BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan made a strong statement with his play on the field Thursday night in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He was just getting started.
Moments after earning MVP honors in the Vandals’ 61-50 victory over Colorado State, Linehan explained what the victory meant to him and the program after the school made the controversial decision to move down to FCS starting in 2018. In April, the Sun Belt informed the school it was dropping Idaho after the 2017 season.
“We belong in FBS — period!” Linehan said in a radio interview with ESPN. “That’s what I believe. That’s what everyone believes. We know we can compete. We belong here. No matter what anyone thinks, even our tone-deaf president. Maybe he doesn’t think we belong here, but I think we belong here.”
Linehan’s emotional words matched his play. He was 21 of 31 for 381 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Linehan, whose father Scott Linehan is the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, also ran for another score in the third-highest scoring game in bowl history.
The bowl record for points is 125 in Marshall’s 64-61, double-overtime victory over East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl. Idaho and Colorado State broke the Potato Bowl scoring record set in 2009 in Idaho’s 43-42 victory over Bowling Green.
Linehan, who toned down his comments and apologized to university President Chuck Staben in the postgame press conference, still reveled in the season-ending win.
“No matter what was said to begin the year, I think all these guys believed we could get to this point,” Linehan said. “We spent so much time dealing with adversity and tough losses. I think we were just tired of losing.”
Idaho (9-4) matched its highest victory total since moving to FBS in 1996.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our players,” coach Paul Petrino said. “They were focused on winning the football game and that helped them come out and play well early. They were told there were a bunch of things they weren’t supposed to be able to do, but they did it anyway.”
Petrino shied away from wading in on the school’s decision, but that didn’t stop him from politicking.
“You’d hope we made a statement,” he said. “We were 2-0 against Mountain West teams year. We’d look pretty good in that conference. But I can only control what I can control, and that’s to be as good of a coach as I can be.”
Colorado State (7-6) finished with a bowl loss for the second straight year.
“We tried some different things this year in preparation,” Colorado coach Mike Bobo said. “You want to finish up strong. That onus falls on me. That’s the position I’m in as the head coach.”
After a scoreless first quarter, it appeared that both teams had dug in for a defensive battle. But that quickly dissipated as the teams started rolling up points.
The 84 points in the second half are the most combined in a half in any bowl game, breaking the record of 76 set by Tulsa and Virginia Tech last year in the first half of the Independence Bowl.
Isaiah Saunders led the Vandals on the ground with 147 yards and set another bowl record in the process with 33 carries.
Colorado State wasted a bowl record-setting performance from Stevens. He tied two records — touchdowns accounted for with five, touchdown passes with 5 — and set the passing yards records with 445. He finished 21 of 36 with two interceptions.
Sophomore Olabisi Johnson paced the Rams’ receiving corps with 265 yards - also a bowl record - on seven catches with a pair of touchdowns. Dalyn Dawkins ran for 118 yards and a touchdown.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNES
Coming into the game, Bobo said a major factor for his team’s defensive success was limiting the big plays. But the Rams were dismal against Idaho, yielding nine plays of 25 yards or more.
The Rams also staked much of their success this season on winning the turnover battle.
However, Idaho, which entered the game 13th in the country in turnover margin, won that category as well. The Rams turned the ball over three times, while the Vandals were turnover free.
Colorado State: One of the biggest storylines heading into the 2017 season will be the quarterback position.
Freshman Collin Hill won the starting job but suffered a torn ACL in his left knee midway through the season. However, Nick Stevens’ return sparked the Rams. With Hill likely unable to practice in the spring and Steven returning for his senior year, competition for the starting job promises to be fierce again in fall camp.
Idaho: The Vandals will look to exit FBS with a bang and claim only their second conference title since moving up in 1996. Idaho’s last conference championship came in 1998 in the Big West.
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