POCATELLO, Idaho – The Idaho State football team went into University of Nevada’s Mackay Stadium Saturday night, collected its $300,000 pay check for playing a Mountain West school and promptly left with a two-point victory.
Idaho State (2-1) led by as many as 23 following an explosive third quarter 50-yard, catch-and-run touchdown by wide receiver Michael Dean before holding off a furious Nevada (0-3) comeback that drug out to the final minute of the game before the Bengals held on for a 30-28 win.
“I just had one of those feelings,” said head coach Rob Phenicie in a post-game radio interview. “If we got some turnovers, got on them early, get some confidence for our kids and we got some stops… We just hung on.”
Nevada began its comeback attempt in the third quarter with an eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to pull within two scores. As the game turned to its final frame, the Idaho State defense had to hold the Wolf Pack to 16 or less points in the final 15 minutes to prevent the game from going to overtime.
“We told them at halftime that it wasn’t going to be easy and that they were going to make a run,” Phenicie said. “And they made their run.”
Idaho State turned the ball over on downs to begin the fourth quarter and punted the ball away the following two drives.
Running back James Madison saved the Bengals from their only true turnover of the night when he recovered a Dean fumble that would have set Nevada up with a short field. The potential score would have given the Wolf Pack a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion with about two minutes remaining. Instead, Nevada punted, but the Wolf Pack got the ball back with 4:09 to play.
Nevada picked up 54 of the 78 yards it needed to tie the game on one long pass play to a wide-open McLane Mannix. The Wolf Pack were inside the ten moments later as the clock bled under the two-minute mark.
“We were trying to keep [Mannix] held up all night and he finally got loose on us,” Phenicie said.
With a third-and-goal from the Idaho State three-yard line, the Bengals had to hold the Wolf Pack out of the end zone two times in three plays to win the game.
The Wolf Pack scored on a three-yard fade route to the back-corner of the end zone on fourth down, but the Bengals’ defense held its ground on the two-point conversion.
An onside kick recovery by redshirt freshmen Matt Peterson preserved the victory and marked the first time that Idaho State has beat an FBS school since 2000.
“That was the biggest play of the game,” Phenicie said on Peterson’s recovery.
Special teams played a pivotal role in building the lead and preserving the win. Parker Johnson was a perfect three-for-three on the night, knocking in two from 36-yards away and one from 19.
The Bengals won the turnover battle 3-0, collected 10 points off turnovers and held Nevada to 218 yards on the ground.
Despite Ty Flanagan leaving in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury, Idaho State’s offense sailed for 383 total yards and was a perfect five-for-five in the red zone.
Phenicie said after the game that Flanagan, “should be okay.” Replacing Flanagan in the backfield was Madison who carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards and collected an additional 40 through the air.
“Hopefully, it doesn’t matter who we put back there, we will get the same results,” Phenicie said.
Quarterback Tanner Gueller efficiently kept the Bengals’ offense on track, going 19-of-38 for 269 passing yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over.
“He managed the game,” Phenicie said on Gueller. “That’s the important thing… We are not asking him to win the game, we are asking him to manage the game.”
Phenicie said he wants to clean up the penalties his team accumulated throughout the night, one of which took an Idaho State touchdown off the board.
“I can’t wait to go back and look to see how many third-down penalties we had on defense,” Phenicie said. “We will be better.”
Idaho State will move into conference play next week by traveling to Northern Colorado with as many wins under its belt as it had all last season.
“They want to prove that we are not a 2-9 Idaho State team,” Phenicie said. “We are a team that competes, we are a team that goes out and plays hard all four quarters and a team that finishes.”