Following one of the biggest wins in recent program history, a group of fans met the Idaho State football team with orange juice and doughnuts as the team pulled into the Holt Arena parking lot around 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning. The team was fresh off a grueling eight-hour bus ride, where many players lost sleep due to the undersized seats, but came off the bus with a 2-1 record and a win over an FBS school, the first since 2000.
“I had just woken up and I didn’t know they were going to be out there,” said redshirt senior Mario Jenkins. “That was the best orange juice I had ever tasted.”
The win over Nevada led six FCS coaches to vote Idaho State into their top-25. Although the Bengals are not ranked in any of the polls, Idaho State received more votes in the Coaches Poll than Big Sky foe Montana State.
“We are picked by the media and the coaches to finish last and we have something to prove to the conference,” said head coach Rob Phenicie. “There are no ‘gimmes, there are no mulligans, we have to work harder to get a win and any win in the conference is a tough win.”
By beating Nevada, Idaho State is off to its best start since 2013, but Phenicie said he would take a win over Northern Colorado 1,000 times before he took one over Nevada. “Whether we win or lose against Nevada, that has no bearing on us getting into the playoffs or putting us in a position to win the Big Sky,” Phenicie said, adding that all he thought about on the ride home was Northern Colorado.
The players say they enjoyed the win a bit longer than the coaches did, but that they too were on to Northern Colorado.
“We got all our celebrating done in Reno and we are looking forward,” said redshirt junior Joe Martin.
After having its first money game cancelled due to Hurricane Irma, Northern Colorado played its only money game of the season last week, falling to the University of Colorado, 41-21.
Bears quarterback Jacob Knipp threw for three long touchdown passes after pounding the ball 17 times with running back Trae Riek. Phenicie expects a similar strategy from the Bears on Saturday, citing how Northern Colorado head coach Earnest Collins Jr. said that Riek may be the best running back he has ever coached.
“That is a bi-product of what they do,” Phenicie said. “He is very efficient for their system.”
The Bengals will combat this with the improvised 3-4 look that defensive coordinator Spencer Toone began to implement against Utah State.
“The switch isn’t too bad,” Martin said. “It’s all the same jobs, it’s just different people in those jobs. If you have a grasp on the defense you should know what you are doing.”
Phenicie was unable to provide an update on Ty Flanagan, who exited the game with an apparent leg injury in the second quarter against Nevada. Although, Phenicie said after the game last Saturday in a radio interview that Flanagan, “should be okay.”
The Big Sky opener means that the 2-1 record no longer matters, as the winner of the Big Sky goes to the team with the best conference record, not overall.
“We are still last in the conference, not first,” Phenicie said.