It took the best defense in the NAIA to end arguably the greatest season in College of Idaho football history.
And it was by less than a yard, too. No. 5 C of I was stopped on a fourth-and-1 inside the red zone with four minutes remaining in a 14-6 loss to No. 4 Grand View in the quarterfinal round of the NAIA playoffs Saturday afternoon at Duke Williams Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.
“We just came up a little bit short – literally,” College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski said. “But I thought the guys played great and played together. They stuck together and had a chance to win the game at the end, and that’s all you can ask for. It just didn’t work out like we had hoped.”
Darius-James Peterson posted 201 yards of total offense in his final game in a Yotes’ uniform. The senior quarterback, who is the program’s all-time leader in several statistical categories including points, rushing yards and passing yards, completed 12 of 21 passes for 141 yards with a pair of interceptions. He added 60 more yards on the ground on 19 carries.
Senior halfback Justin Hellyer also had 60 rushing yards on 12 carries. Redshirt sophomore tight end Connor Gagain hauled in four catches for 42 yards for the No. 5 Yotes (11-1).
C of I recorded 319 yards of total offense, 163 on the ground. It was the most anyone has put up this season against the Vikings (13-0), who entered allowing just 10.7 points and 214 yards per game.
But the Yotes didn’t score a touchdown.
It was the first time in 43 years that the College of Idaho failed to reach the end zone in a game.
“They’re kind of a quirky defense,” Moroski said. “They really load up the middle, so they take away the inside run. And they’re very, very athletic on the outside as well. They’re just a really, really good defensive team and nobody’s been able to move the ball against them. We were no different.”
The Yotes nearly rallied back from a 14-3 halftime deficit.
Senior placekicker Kyle Mitchell made it a one possession game at 14-6 by drilling a 45-yard field goal with 2:57 to go in the third. Peterson then busted off a 64-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds remaining in the quarter. But the scoring play was wiped out by an illegal block in the back penalty.
“It was unfortunate because it didn’t have any bearing on the play. Darius was already by the guy,” Moroski said. “It takes the wind out of your sails a little bit. But it happens in football. Everybody’s had a touchdown called back in a critical situation, so I’m proud of the guys for still hanging in there after something like that happened.”
However, College of Idaho still got another shot at the end to potentially tie the game and force overtime. After starting from their own 7-yard line, the Yotes drove the ball all the way down to the Grand View 14.
But they were unable to get one yard on two plays. Junior tailback Nick Calzaretta was stuffed twice, turning the ball over on downs with 4:01 remaining. It ended a 13-play, 79-yard drive that ran 6:16 off the clock.
“That was the ball game,” Moroski said. “You can second guess yourself all the way, but that’s our money play and Nick’s our money guy. They got on the edge and got the penetration that they needed and we weren’t able to get it.”
C of I took a 3-0 lead less than four minutes into the game on a 41-yard field goal from Mitchell.
The lead held until a series of plays allowed the Vikings to score 14 quick points.
College of Idaho got pinned down at its own 5 when senior wide receiver Tony Huebner elected not to field a punt return and let the ball roll instead. An illegal shift penalty on the Yotes backed them up even further, to the 3. A three-and-out followed by a shanked punt by Spencer Lambert set the Vikings up with a first-and-10 at the C of I 39. Two plays later, Grand View went up 7-3 after Ben Ferken hit Anthony Turner for a 5-yard TD pass with 10:34 left in the half.
A Peterson interception on the Yotes’ very next possession led to the Vikings extending the lead to 14-3 on a 1-yard run by Jerry Lowe four minutes later.
“That was the real turning point in the first half,” Moroski said. “I don’t think anybody was really upset. That’s just the way the game turns sometimes.”
Despite the loss, this Yotes’ team will still go down as one of the all-time greats. They won the first Frontier Conference championship and NAIA playoff game in program history, and reached the postseason for the first time since 1953. Their 17-game winning streak, which started in 2018 and ended Saturday, is the longest in school history.
“I’ll probably have a better answer for you in a couple of weeks, but it was magical because of the guys,” Moroski said. “They not only bought in, but owned what we’re trying to accomplish here as a program. And there’s just something about it that’s hard to describe. But it’s why I coach, and it was just really, really awesome.”