RUPERT — Since the late 1960s, there have been two eras of Minico football: the tough years and the Tim Perrigot years.
Perrigot, a man with no ties to Idaho before his arrival, sparked a resurgence of Minico football. Before he took over as head coach in 1996, the Spartans were a statewide pushover. The program had not won a conference championship since 1968, and had not had as much as a winning season in more than a decade.
When he took the job, he expected to stay only one year in Rupert. Twenty-two seasons later, he’s brought the school nine conference titles, two state semifinals, and last season, its first state championship appearance.
Along the way, Perrigot laid a blueprint for how to turn around a losing program. But it did not come without plenty of tough luck, losing seasons and close calls along the way.
The Early Years
The first step sounded easy enough: just win some games.
Not a playoff berth. Not a conference championship. Just a few games.
Between 1968 and Perrigot’s arrival as an assistant coach in 1992, the Spartans had a couple of 6-4 seasons in 1972 and 1981, but that was it for winning seasons. No team had contended for rankings, accolades or postseason appearances.
Landon Barnes, a future player for Perrigot, said his dad, who began coaching at Minico in the 1980s, summarized the time bleakly.
“He said people wanted to schedule us for homecoming, because we were an easy win,” Landon Barnes said.
Two decades before Perrigot’s arrival, the Spartans won exactly zero games between September 1988 and September 1991.
The 28-game losing streak is still one of the longest in Idaho prep football history, and warranted the attention of Sports Illustrated, according to Perrigot.
“They came to write a story,” he said, “and it just so happened we beat Burley to stop the streak right around that time.”
After four years as an assistant, Perrigot took over as head coach in 1996. For the first few years, things didn’t get drastically better. The 1997 and 2000 Minico teams sniffed winning records, both finishing 4-5, but the Spartans could not turn the corner.
“We weren’t getting blown out,” he said. “We just couldn’t find a way to win tight games.”
Perrigot started to rethink what defined team success. He borrowed the approach often used for personal improvement: set small goals, and accomplish them first.
Win the first game of the season.
Then, beat Burley in the Mini-Cassia rivalry game.
Then, beat a 5A team.
By 2001, Minico had accomplished all of them, and even added a winning season to its resume, its first in two decades. The Spartans also beat Twin Falls in 2001 for the first time in 15 years.
The foundation for success had been laid.
Knocking at the Door
Minico’s football program built confidence during the early 2000s, but it would take a few years and a few external changes before it could eye a conference championship.
First, Minico dropped from 5A to the smaller 4A classification in 2004.
“That was a big boost,” said Dane Broadhead, the starting quarterback for Minico from 2004 to 2007. “We were a good team, don’t get me wrong, but we just didn’t have the kids and numbers to compete with the Boise schools.”
But more importantly, Broadhead said, his class was the first to play organized small-fry football, a feeder organization similar to Little League baseball. Broadhead’s father, Glen, and Perrigot coached the teams.
“Before then, the kids would play flag football through 7th grade,” Broadhead said. “To me, that’s too late for kids to start playing tackle football.”
In 2005, with one year of varsity experience and plenty of organized football under his belt, Broadhead led Minico to its first conference championship in 37 years.
Then another one. And another one.
“It’s something we still weren’t used to, the fact that Minico football (was) winning all these games and championships,” Perrigot said. “We hadn’t had any of that type of success before. We were just eating it up.”
In 2007, with the inaugural Minico small-fry class in its senior year of high school, Minico took a leap. It knocked off defending state champion Pocatello in the season opener on a last-second play. Two games later, it blew out 4A Boise powerhouse Bishop Kelly 34-7 en route to an undefeated regular season.
Skyler “Poke” Morgan, a running back from 2005-2008, even said after the Bishop Kelly game, “I think we’re on our way to a state championship.”
Unfortunately, the “state championship,” according to Perrigot and some of his 2007 players, came in the quarterfinals. After cruising past Rigby in the first round, Minico had to face Blackfoot, pitting the state’s No. 1 team against the No. 2 team.
Blackfoot was packed with talent, including Josh Hill, currently a tight end with the New Orleans Saints, and J.C. Percy, a Boise State linebacker during the Broncos’ undefeated 2009 season.
“I think Perrigot felt like if we make it through Blackfoot, we’re getting a state title,” Barnes said. “We weren’t going to see anyone else like that.”
The game was tight throughout. Minico thought it had taken a late two-score lead when Morgan sprinted 80 yards down the field with only a few minutes remaining, but the touchdown was called back for holding.
“I still think it was a bad call to this day,” Morgan said.
On the next play, Broadhead was intercepted, setting up Blackfoot for the game-winning touchdown.
Minico lost the quarterfinal 34-31.
The One That Got Away
One year later, Minico was back in the playoffs. After wins over Rigby and Middleton, the Spartans waltzed into the 4A semifinals for a matchup with conference foe Jerome.
Minico had already beaten Jerome by two touchdowns earlier in the year to claim its fourth straight conference championship. The rematch, played at Minico, “could have been the largest 4A semifinal in the state,” according to IDHSAA Executive Director Ty Jones. It was dubbed “The Ruckus in Rupert” by the Times News.
“We had a lot for our Skyview game (in the 2017 state championship), but it wasn’t anywhere near that game,” Perrigot said. “There were just rows of people standing behind the fence, trying to look over somebody’s shoulder to watch the game.”
“There were people looking off the road over on 300 West,” said Byron Pinther, a wide receiver and safety for Minico. “There were people near the railroad tracks over near the long jump area.”
Jerome’s star quarterback, Jake Lammers missed the game with a broken arm, leaving backup Cameron Stauffer, a running-back-turned-quarterback, to man the Tiger offense.
“We hadn’t really prepared for that kid because we didn’t see him in the regular season,” Perrigot. “So we had no idea he could scramble the way he did.”
When Minico pressured the pocket, Stauffer rolled left and right, buying time for a pass or whittling away first-down yardage with his feet. He didn’t overpower Minico – in fact, Perrigot said he felt like the Spartans had “dominated the game” until the final minutes – but he kept the Tigers within striking distance.
Decision time came in the form of a 4th and goal from the two-yard line for Minico, up 38-35 with about three minutes left in the game. The Spartans could effectively end the game with a touchdown.
They decided to rush with Morgan, and Jerome’s defense stuffed him short of the goal line.
Stauffer, a first-time starter for Jerome, methodically led the Tigers down the field, wringing the clock dry before completing a medium-distance Hail Mary pass for the win.
It’s one that Perrigot will never forget.
“Stauffer avoided a sack – he was so elusive – and he dipped under our defensive end, rolled to the right and threw the ball to the corner of the end zone,” Perrigot recalled. “Two of our kids ran into each other and their kid caught the ball in the end zone with basically no time left.”
Pinther remembers an extra component to the play.
“The DB had bumped him out of bounds and he came back into the field of play,” he said, “but the refs didn’t see it. Your heart sinks real quick because you’re thinking, ‘Did that really just happen?’”
The undefeated season came to an end with orange and white storming the red and gold field.
“It still hits me,” said Barnes, who had 10 receptions and 147 yards in the game. “I became really good friends with most of that Jerome team. But I felt like it was ours.”
Breaking the Curse
If you ask Minico players past and present, that game placed a supernatural shroud on the program, referenced as the “2008 curse.”
For the next eight years, the Spartans would have continued success in the regular season, only to lose in the first round of the playoffs.
Some were close games: a 27-23 loss to Blackfoot in 2016 and a 27-20 loss to Hillcrest in 2011. Some were blowouts: a 76-27 loss to Idaho Falls in 2013 and 46-0 loss to Hillcrest in 2009. But the end result was the same.
“I’m just sitting there thinking, ‘Man, are we ever going to get that chance again? Are we ever going to get that close to a state championship?’” Perrigot said.
Then came the 2017 season.
Perrigot’s son, John, earned the starting quarterback role. A pair of running backs, 4A player of the year Larry Vega, and Colter May, brother of two former Minico standouts, led a dominant Spartan rushing attack, and powerful fullback Tim Miller made goal line conversions a foregone conclusion.
They started the year 2-2, with losses to Grantsville (Utah) and 5A Rigby, a couple of tough opponents, which Perrigot likes to schedule early each season. But the Spartans bounced back to finish the regular season on a five-game winning streak.
In the first round of the playoffs, Minico rode their defense to a win over Century, the second time in two months it had beaten the Diamondbacks.
“I was scared to death of because we were playing them again, just like we had in 2008 with Jerome,” he said. “I had some flashbacks before that Century game.”
The 2008 curse, as referred to by players, was over. But this group wasn’t quite satisfied yet.
“We were always living underneath the 2008 team,” John Perrigot said. “We had a team get-together around that time to pump ourselves up. Tim Miller got up there and said he doesn’t want to be like the 2008 team. We don’t want it to end that way. We want to go all the way.”
Minico’s semifinal game was in Rupert, a product of winning the Great Basin Conference. Still, the Spartans were slated to take on undefeated Skyview, which had been ranked No. 1 in the 4A media poll every week except one. Minico had entered the rankings for the first time at No. 5 the week prior.
The Spartans were heavy underdogs. But breaking a curse apparently comes with a healthy dose of what some would call irrational confidence, and in sports, that’s not always a bad thing.
“All week, I just kind of had a good feeling,” said Keelan McCaffrey, special teams coach and Minico football alumnus. “I didn’t know what it was, but I thought we would be alright.”
Skyview nearly doubled the Spartans’ total yards on the night, but not without committing two turnovers on special teams, both leading to Minico touchdowns on opposite sides of halftime.
Minico trailed by seven points with less than three minutes to play in the semifinal game. The Spartans needed a spark. When Perrigot called a timeout during his team’s last-ditch drive, an old, familiar sound echoed through the stadium.
A train horn from the railroad tracks just a hundred feet away blared over the music and crowd noise.
“Twenty-two years of having that train go by in practice, then having it go by in that moment,” Tim Perrigot said. “Everything felt right. It was meant to happen.”
Miller, the goal line specialist, eventually punched in a two-yard run to bring Minico within one point. But now what? Should the Spartans kick the extra point to tie it, or go for two to win the game? For Perrigot, that was never a real question.
“We’d been holding them at bay for about as long as we could,” he said on the Magic Valley Sports Podcast in November. “I think if the game had gone another quarter, they probably would have put some points up.”
The play had been saved all season long. The Spartans loaded the backfield, handed it off one way, then returned the ball to Miller sneaking across, headed to the off-side tackle. He strutted in for the score, giving Minico the one-point lead and a berth in the 4A state championship game.
After the celebration ended and the euphoria subsided, Perrigot began the drive home, like any other Friday night. But on the way, he stopped by the Sinclair/A&W in Rupert and parked beside the train tracks. He was alone in the back of his truck, but could not contain his joy. First a smile, then full-fledged laughter.
“I mean if someone pulled up next to me, they would have thought I was on drugs,” he said. “I was just laughing and screaming to myself, ‘We went for two and beat Skyview, the number one team in the state!’”
One week later, Minico lost the state championship game 40-14 to Skyline. But for Perrigot, that game was just a footnote to a larger story, a story of a program that was looking for just one win in the 1990s. Now they were the pride of Rupert.
“Can you imagine?” he said. “From 1972 to 2000, they’d only had two winning seasons, and then we do this. That’s why when we went to the state championship, you see all those people there. Even after the game, around town today, we still get that message: ‘Your boys did us awfully proud. You did it. You went to the state finals.’”
Connecting the Dots
Perrigot has his own reasons for how Minico went from a decades-long pushover to a title contender. Just don’t ask him about his role in that transformation.
He agrees with Broadhead that the development of small-fry football was crucial, saying that the kids on past teams couldn’t compare to Boise teams that had been playing since 5th grade or earlier.
“We were getting football players at Minico who first played football in 8th grade,” he said. “I mean, they had to learn how to put their helmets on.”
He also got a boost in 2001, when the high school shifted from 10th-12th grades to 9th-12th grades, a minor change that gave players an extra year to grow within the program.
Finally, Perrigot credits a long-tenured coaching staff at Minico for sticking with him and making the program more stable. More than half of his current assistants have been on staff for longer than a decade.
But his current and former players think the head coach deserves plenty of credit for what the program has become, especially for his willingness to scrap schemes from one year to the next, depending on personnel.
Morgan’s sophomore year, he said the team was more spread out and relied heavily on throwing the ball. His junior year, they went to a pistol formation, then his senior year, they went back to the I-formation. When he graduated, the team then went to a triple wing offense.
“He realizes what he’s surrounded with, and he adapts,” Morgan said.
But even more than his knowledge of the game, players cite Perrigot’s understanding of people and relationships.
As a principal at West Minico and a small-fry coach, Perrigot meets a new class of elementary and middle school students each year. McCaffrey said Perrigot stands out in the end zone during the East Minico versus West Minico middle school flag football game and talks with the kids.
“He knows everyone’s name,” McCaffrey said. “He calls your name and you’re like, ‘Wow, coach knows who I am.’ Even now, he’s always watching and he knows those kids.”
“That’s who your team’s going to be, and it happens faster than you think,” Perrigot said. “I don’t think you realize that until you have kids of your own. Time goes pretty quickly, so you better take advantage of getting to know these kids.”
Perrigot is also a master motivator, though it doesn’t take screaming to get his team amped up. Broadhead recalls one such instance in the summer leading up to the 2007 season.
“We’d be in the weight room, and he’d pop in and just say, ‘Pocatello, Burley, BK’ and then walk out,” he said, referencing a few of the teams that would inevitably stand between the team and its goals for the coming year. “And we’d work harder. (Perrigot) knew without yelling at us or having to be lovey-dovey how to get us ready for a game.”
Still, without hesitation, Perrigot credits his players’ hearts more than his own for reaching the state title game last season.
“I’ve coached for 22 years here, and there’s something special that happened in the locker room with these kids, that I’m not sure I can explain,” he said. “All I know is they love each other with all their hearts. I know that kind of sounds cheesy, but it’s a special love for one another that you can preach as a coach and tell them how important it is, but they really have to care about each other.”
Perrigot sees no reason to give up his spot atop the football program, but eventually, he said his “ultimate goal” is to become a superintendent. He earned his Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of Idaho in 2012.
But for now, he said he’s going to cherish coaching the Spartans, a job that he calls “the best story ever.”
“It really is,” he said. “You just can’t make this stuff up. This is the greatest place in the world to coach football.”