Underdog Idaho Is a Winner
John Welsh’s great arm and Southern Mississippi’s bad hands gave Idaho its biggest football victory ever.
Welsh, a freshman quarterback, threw for four touchdowns and Idaho forced six turnovers in beating the Golden Eagles, 42-35, on Wednesday.
At the beginning of the season, more than one publication ranked Idaho dead last in all of Division I football. Three months later, the Vandals (9-3) capped a remarkable season by coming back to win the nation’s coldest bowl.
“These guys were rated 112th in the nation about 90 days ago, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Idaho Coach Chris Tormey said. “This is the high point in Idaho football history, I think.”
The Eagles were favored by 16 1/2 points, but six fumbles, a number of dropped passes and an indifferent defensive performance doomed them.
“We are incredibly disappointed,” Southern Mississippi Coach Jeff Bower said. “We had too many dropped passes and turned the ball over too many times. It wasn’t an acceptable performance.”
Welsh was 24 of 41 for 291 yards, but the outcome wasn’t secure until linebacker Ryan Skinner, who had 20 tackles, recovered Derrick Nix’s fumble at midfield with 2:30 to play. Nix rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns, but also fumbled twice in critical situations.
“It’s obvious we killed ourselves,” Southern Mississippi quarterback Lee Roberts said. “We didn’t execute the whole game, and they played big when it counted.”
After Southern Mississippi (7-5) rallied from a 14-point deficit to tie the score, 35-35, Welsh drove Idaho 65 yards for the winning touchdown. His 21-yard scramble helped set up his 28-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Prestimonico with 4:36 left.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to play as well as we did,” Welsh said. “Just being here wasn’t good enough. We wanted the trophy.”
The bowl attracted 19,664, well below the 30,000 that Boise State routinely draws but 3,500 more than attended last year’s inaugural game.