The Idaho State football team overcame a 16-point second half deficit Saturday afternoon in Greeley, Colorado, but the Bengals only came away with six points on their last three touchdowns, as failed point-after-attempts (PATs) opened the door for a last-second field goal that gave Northern Colorado a 43-42 win.
“We fought, but we lost. There are no moral victories,” said head coach Rob Phenicie in a post-game radio interview. “We aren’t in this to be happy about things when we lose. We are going to go back and get better.”
Idaho State (2-2, 0-1 BSC) attempted a surprise onside kick following a third quarter touchdown. One play later, Northern Colorado (2-1, 1-0 BSC) was in the end zone and began to string together a third quarter lead as Bears quarterback Jacob Knipp hooked up with a wide-open Theron Verna for a 42-yard score.
Knipp’s efficient day consisted of just six incomplete passes as the junior quarterback threw for 413 yards, tossing four touchdowns to four different receivers. The Bears balanced aerial attack saw four different wideouts collect 50 or more receiving yards and was headlined by Verna, who caught four passes for 154 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s what he is going to do,” Phenicie said on Knipp. “He managed the game efficiently. He was who we thought he was.”
Following an Idaho State punt, the Bears were in the end zone again as Anthony Davis capped off a 6-play, 84-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, putting the Bengals in a 40-24 hole with 3:22 to go in the third quarter.
Idaho State began whittling down the lead when running back James Madison ran in the end zone from two yards out, putting the finishing touches on a 75-yard touchdown drive on the final play of the third quarter. But the Bengals went for two, and only came away with six.
The defense forced a Northern Colorado punt to open the fourth quarter and two plays later Idaho State explosively found its way back into the end zone.
Madison, who finished his monster day with 253 yards and two touchdowns off 34 bruising carries, ripped off his longest run of the afternoon, a 55-yard scamper that set-up a one-handed touchdown grab by wide receiver Hagen Graves. But once again, the team only came away with six points. This time, the extra point was blocked.
“That’s an attribute to the o-line,” Phenicie said on Madison’s day.
Then, Idaho State got a break when the normally mistake-free Bears offense put the ball on the turf. The Bengals recovered the fumble and Idaho State was in business, starting the potential go-ahead drive in Bears territory. Idaho State marched down inside the ten-yard line, but for the first time this season, Idaho State failed to come away with points in the red zone as the Bengals fumbled the ball back to the Bears.
“We needed three more at the end there when we fumbled,” Phenicie said. “We can’t have turnovers down in the scoring zone.”
Following the turnover, the Bengals forced a punt and Idaho State picked up two fourth down conversions on its way to the end zone to regain the lead. The drive was capped off with a Mitch Gueller 17-yard touchdown catch on the second fourth-down pickup of the drive. But, for the third time in as many trips, the Bengals only came away with six points. This time, the extra point was pushed wide of the upright.
“Offense, defense, special teams, everybody had their turns,” Phenicie said.
Gueller, who was playing in his first game of the season due to an injury he suffered in fall camp, caught 5 passes in his season-debut for 157 yards and three touchdowns.
“We have been waiting for him to come back all of fall camp,” Phenicie said.
Although Idaho State was perfect on fourth down conversions, going four-for-four on the day and three-for-three in the fourth quarter, back-to-back sacks put Idaho State into a position where they were forced to punt, giving the Bears the ball back at their own 12 with 2:17 to play.
Knipp quickly drove the Bears down the field, crossing mid-field with 53-seconds left. The Bears were over the Idaho State 30 with 17-seconds to go and were inside the 20 as the clocked ticked to under the five-second mark.
After being iced, Collin Root sailed in the game-winning 37-yard field goal from the right-hashmark as time expired, sending the Bengals home with an 0-1 conference record.
“We needed three more yards, we needed one more stop, we needed one more extra point,” Phenicie said.
Idaho State returns home next week for homecoming weekend as the team hosts Cal Poly next Saturday at Holt Arena.
“This is a different team than you have seen in the past,” Phenicie said.