Idaho keeps getting the same parting gift on its farewell tour of the Big Sky Conference: A loss.
And the Vandals can’t take ‘em back to the return counter either.
Montana State presented Idaho with a numbing 16-13 football defeat on a nasty, windy, rainy Saturday in front of a shivering crowd of 3,117 at Reno H. Sales Stadium.
Idaho, which will join the Big West Conference after this season, was given every opportunity to win by its defense and MSU’s generosity.
The Vandals couldn’t come through.
And now, almost certainly out of the Sky title chase, Idaho is 0-2 in conference, its worst league start since an 0-3 under Dennis Erickson in 1984. That team won its final four.
Idaho is 1-3 overall. The worst UI starts in recent memory: 0-2 in 1989, 2-5 in 1984 and 0-5 in 1978.
“We’re all in shock right now,” said senior receiver Dwight McKinzie.
“It’s a bad dream,” said senior quarterback Eric Hisaw, who relieved starter Brian Brennan in the final quarter. “Idaho is not a 1-3 ball team, period,”
Hisaw added. “I don’t care what anybody says, we’re not a bad team, we’re a good team. We’re just in a fog right now.”
In a game reduced to a battle in the trenches by the conditions, the Vandal defense held MSU without a first down for five straight series in the second half.
Defensive end Barry Mitchell batted a pass by MSU quarterback Jeff Tuss and linebacker Jason Shelt made a diving interception at MSU’s 38 with 7:24 left.
Hisaw entered, completed two third-down passes to David Griffin and Idaho elected to take Ryan Woolverton’s 32-yard field goal rather than go on fourth-and-11 at the 16. That narrowed MSU’s lead to 16-13 with 2:07 left.
The Vandals’ Robert Scott recovered the ensuing onside kick at UI’s 44. On fourth-and-1, Idaho went to its power formation, but linebacker Brian Pepper shot through a seam and buried Lavoni Kidd in the backfield.
The fourth quarter was a virtual replay of last week’s loss at Idaho State. In that one, Idaho’s defense gave the offense several late chances but it couldn’t cash in.
And for the second straight week, Idaho’s offense started fast only to fizzle. UI had decent success between the 30s before turning anemic.
“It’s been the story of our year,” UI coach Chris Tormey said. “We move the ball well early in the game. In the second half, we’ve lost offensive consistency.”
Idaho opened with a flawless first-quarter drive. Kidd, subbing for the injured Joel Thomas, ran through gaping holes for 33 yards on four attempts. Linebacker Dave Longoria, reverting to his high school days as a running back, hurdled in for the score from the 1.
Woolverton hit a 31-yard field goal near the end of the first period and UI led 10-3.
MSU (1-1, 4-2) responded behind gritty running back Matt Engelking, who finished with 165 yards, and effective play-action and/or roll-out passes by Tuss. Controlling the ball for 11 of the 15 second-quarter minutes, the Bobcats tied it on a 1-yard sneak by Tuss.
That drive was kept alive when MSU, facing third-and-1, sprang an odd formation. Two linemen and a receiver shifted out wide left, forming a fence for tight end Scott Harry, who caught a screen pass and rambled for 13 yards.
“I’m really getting goofy, aren’t I?” conservative MSU coach Cliff Hysell joked. He had watched Western New Mexico use the play on his Bobcats last year.
Engelking thrived in the miserable conditions. Though he’s probably the “25th or 26th (fastest)” player on the team, according to Hysell, the hard-nosed junior plowed up the middle and around end for yardage.
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