CALDWELL — The scene of quarterback Tyler Cox slowly walking off the field, shaking his head with a dejected look on his face after fumbling the ball away with less than three minutes left in the game, perfectly summed up the day for the College of Idaho football team Saturday at Simplot Stadium.
The Yotes (2-2, 1-2 Frontier) literally gave the game away with six total turnovers in a 20-7 loss to Rocky Mountain (3-2, 3-1 Frontier) to snap their two-game winning streak.
“The turnovers were just backbreakers,” College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski said. “I’ve never seen such an array of crazy situations like that. It was really disappointing. You can’t have bizarre turnovers, those just kill us.”
The day actually started out quite promising for the C of I.
The Yotes needed less than four minutes to score the game’s first points on their opening drive on a 2-yard sweep run by freshman wildcat quarterback Darius-James Peterson to take a 7-0 lead.
“We always start our games really well,” junior wide receiver Shayne Robinson said. “We just have to learn to keep that momentum going and stay in the game. We have to keep up with the pace of the game instead of stagnating.”
Following its touchdown drive, the College of Idaho recorded a grand total of just 79 yards and four first downs during the first two quarters to trail 10-7 at halftime.
“Rocky Mountain is a great defense and they came up with a really great game plan for us,” Cox said. “We just came out kind of dead today. We have to fix that.”
The second half wouldn’t be any better, in fact, it would be much worse.
After giving up a touchdown to the Battlin’ Bears at the beginning of the third quarter to fall behind 17-7, the C of I appeared as if it was going to get itself back in the game, driving the ball all the way to the Rocky Mountain 4-yard line.
However, Peterson threw an errant pass, which was promptly picked off to end the drive.
That turnover would just be the beginning.
On the Yotes’ next possession, sophomore running back Mike Kirby coughed the ball up in the redzone, while Cox threw two interception in two of the next three drives.
Cox finished the game with three interception, the most he’s thrown since the opener at home Sept. 3 against Montana Western, when he also threw three picks.
It also marked the second game in a row that Cox has thrown multiple interceptions with two coming last week at Eastern Oregon.
“We have to take care of the ball and it starts with me,” Cox said. “I have to work on the little things. I have to hold onto the ball and can’t force my throws. I have to be smarter.”
The final nail in the C of I’s coffin came on that Cox fumble, when the Boise High alum dropped the snap and then proceeded to lose track of the ball as a Rocky Mountain player dived on the loose ball to seal the game.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot with too many turnovers,” Robinson said. “I honestly don’t know what was going on with us. I don’t know if it was jitters or just trying to get that third win and we were nervous. We just got to be better.”
As anemic as the offense looked on the day with just 217 yards of offense, the Yotes’ defense showed up yet again, and kept them in the game.
It was the third straight game the defense has held its opponent to 20 or less points, and it created two turnovers of its own.
“I thought our defense kept us in the game,” senior defensive back Nate Moore said. “I thought we tackled well. Those guys were a big physical team and I thought we did well with the matchups we had. Overall, we played pretty stout today.”
The first forced turnover came in the second quarter when the Battlin’ Bears had driven the ball into Yote territory at the 41-yard line.
But on just the second play of the quarter, sophomore defensive back Jacques Carter jumped high in the air and came down with the pick.
The biggest turnover by the C of I’s defense came right before halftime.
With Rocky Mountain looking to extend its 10-7 lead with the ball at the Yote 10-yard line, junior cornerback Malik Whitfield dived to the ground to snag the ball to end the drive.
“I got a good break on the ball and I got lucky I guess,” Whitfield laughed.
The loss for the Yotes marked the third time in three years they have failed to win three games in a row after winning two.
It also ruined their chances to win three games in a row for the first time in 42 years and makes them winless at home on the season.
“It’s really frustrating because we obviously want to get one for our fans, who always come out and support us,” Moore said.
Cox had 129 yards passing and 39 rushing in the loss.
Kirby was the team’s leading rusher with 50 yards, while Robinson was the leading receiver for the C of I with three catches for 47 yards.
For the Battlin’ Bears, senior Chase White completed 21 of his 33 passes for 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Senior Kodee Varner led the Rocky Mountain ground attack with 27 carries for 115 yards.
The Yotes will now face a Southern Oregon team that’s been to the last two NAIA Championship games and won the title in 2014.
That game is scheduled for 2 p.m. MT Saturday Oct. 1 in Ashland, Oregon.
“Southern Oregon is for sure the best team in the conference,” Moroski said. “I think they are the best team in the country and we have to find a way to stay with them. They’re going to be a difficult matchup for us on both sides of the ball, but we are looking forward to the challenge. That’s what it’s all about, taking and accepting challenges and hopefully we play a whole lot better.