[Vandal] Big Sky Conference Shakes Up Traditional Football Rivalries
robiegruss at aol.com
robiegruss at aol.com
Thu Aug 5 09:12:12 PDT 2021
>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoThursday, August 5, 2021
Big Sky Conference Shakes Up Traditional Football Rivalries
Idaho’s schedule down the road doesn’t include Montana
By Colton Clark
SPOKANE — The Battle of the Domes is growing as a football rivalry, courtesy of the Big Sky.
The conference revealed protected-rivalry games — contests that must be played each season — for 2022-24 ahead of its media day in late July. The Idaho Vandals and Idaho State Bengals now will meet in their regular-season finales each year.
The long-running Little Brown Stein tilt between Idaho and Montana is no longer a protected rivalry, which most certainly comes as a disappointment to the Vandal fan base.
But the coaches of the Gem State programs welcome the development.
“You’ve got to play your in-state game,” Idaho’s Paul Petrino recently told the Tubs at the Club podcasters. “As the years go on, that’s a great way to end your season. When you have two in-state teams, they should play the last game of the year.”
The Big Sky had to shuffle its schedules because Southern Utah has elected to depart the league in 2022. And Idaho State’s Rob Phenicie called the protection of the rivalry “one of the best things the conference has done.”
Since rejoining the Big Sky in 2018, the Vandals are 1-2 against ISU. The southern side smoked Idaho in 2018, and the outfit from the Palouse returned the favor in 2019. The host Bengals came out on top this spring by two points in an offensive slog of a game. Idaho State owns the edge in scoring 107-95.
Vandal and Bengal players alike have said they highlight the matchup on their calendars. The past two seasons have featured a healthy bit of game-week fire-stoking.
“It’s always something to look forward to,” Phenicie said.
The Battle of the Domes will kick off at noon Pacific on Nov. 20 in Holt Arena. Both teams went 2-4 in the shortened spring season. Three of the Bengals’ losses came by five points or fewer.
“We’d play good for three quarters, then in one we’d go out there on offense and punt three times,” said second-year ISU quarterback Tyler Vander Waal, a Wyoming transfer who this fall will be joined by fellow former Cowboy Jared Scott — a big-bodied hybrid tight end/receiver who the Bengals expect to be a star.
“If we put a full game together, we can be pretty dangerous as a whole team.”
Senior Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere used ISU as an example when discussing the top-to-bottom competitiveness of the Big Sky.
“Teams are getting better and better,” he said. “For instance, you got Idaho State. They’re decent, but they showed this spring that they can compete with the best teams. They almost beat us (a 46-42 EWU win). And like, Sacramento State turned around their whole program in 2019 (and claimed the BSC title for the first time).”
Idaho’s other protected rival will remain Eastern Washington, considering there are just 80 miles separating the schools.
That game, which has yet to adopt an official moniker, has exhibited parity besides in 2018, when EWU torched Idaho 38-14 on the Inferno at Roos Field.
The Vandals used a bruising ground game to tame the Eagles in 2019, then opened the spring with another upset of Eastern — this one on a last-minute touchdown pass from Mike Beaudry to Hayden Hatten.
EWU squeezed out a playoff-clinching victory later in the season against the Vandals and their option offense, led by converted running back Zach Borisch because of coronavirus-caused short-handedness.
“The first year, there wasn’t much substance behind the rivalry,” Eagles linebacker Jack Sendelbach said. “Then they beat us in back-to-back games and it gets a little more interesting. The crowd gets engaged and everything. You know there’s a history behind it, so it’s fun to play them now.”
Eastern is captained by Barriere, a stat-sheet-stuffer and premier FCS talent who recently was tabbed as the conference’s preseason offensive player of the year and a Walter Payton Award watch list player.
The Eagles, boasting an experienced roster, are seeking a return to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, and perhaps a bit more. They were popped in the first round in the spring by North Dakota State — the same team that denied EWU its second FCS crown two seasons earlier. The Bison rolled Eastern in the 2018 national championship.
“We’ve got a big senior class. We’ve played a lot of games and we know what to expect, we know how to get where we want,” Barriere said.“Get a Big Sky ring, and get a national ring.”
The Vandals travel to Cheney, Wash., on Oct. 16.
“The games have been competitive,” Eagles coach Aaron Best said of the Idaho/EWU rivalry. “They’ve had our number a few times. When we approach that game and recruit against them, there’s no love lost, but we’re not going to superficially put together a plan to prepare emotionally.”
Idaho is set to host Montana on Oct. 23 for a shot at the splintering-old Little Brown Stein traveling trophy, which has been in the Grizzlies’ possession since 2000.
“I’m glad it’s still sitting in our office,” veteran UM coach Bobby Hauck said.
The two will square off in Missoula in 2022, then at the Kibbie Dome in 2023. But they won’t play in 2024. Portland State takes over as one of Montana’s protected rivals.
Idaho and the Grizzlies went 14 years without playing from 2004-17 while the Vandals competed in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“Guys in my generation, and those before, know that game’s been played a lot — it’s in the 80s,” Hauck said — 86 times, in fact, since 1903. It’s the second longest-running rivalry in the Big Sky, behind the Brawl of the Wild, which pits the Montana schools.
“It’s cool to have it rekindled,” Hauck continued. “We try to educate these guys, because they didn’t grow up around it. It’s gonna get played a lot. It’s not going to be off for 15 years again.”
Hauck reiterated his belief that the 13-team Big Sky is too swollen.
“We need two leagues out West,” so no teams can “dodge” others, he said.
The Grizzlies have dominated the rivalry since Idaho rejoined the FCS fold, prevailing 46-27 in 2018 and 42-17 the next year. They were one of five BSC teams to opt out of the spring season. Montana instead practiced and hosted a couple of exhibitions, routing Portland State and Central Washington.
As usual, the Griz likely will enter the fall as one of the favorites to contend for the Big Sky title and make a deep run in the playoffs.
“I thought our plan in the spring was perfect,” Hauck said. “I think we have a complete team. Across the board, offense and defense, we’re solid at every position.”
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