POCATELLO — It’s Black Flag week for the Idaho State football team.
Idaho State hosts rival Idaho on Saturday (4 p.m.) in Pocatello in the Bengals’ final home game of the pandemic-altered season.
“We don’t suit up in the black jerseys for nothing,” senior tight end Nate Shubert told reporters on Monday. “It’s important to us and we know what it means for us to show we’re the better team in Idaho.”
Channeling pirates who once flew a black flag while plundering and pillaging, the Bengals (1-3) will wear their all-black uniforms and helmets with orange stripes. It’s more than just a fashion statement for them. It’s personal.
“This is for Idaho,” senior defensive lineman Raemo Trevino said. “By any means necessary, go out there and get the ‘W.’ If it’s laying your body out there and you have to be carried up the ramp, then that’s what you’ve got to do.”
The rivals have split their past two meetings, and both were blowouts.
The last time they met in Pocatello was 2018, and the Bengals won, 62-28. In 2019, the game was in Mocsow, and Idaho cruised to a 45-21 win. They didn’t play last fall after the Big Sky Conference postponed the season to the spring because of COVID-19.
Saturday’s game is a big one for No. 24 Idaho (2-1), which has its sights set on a berth in the FCS playoffs, but Idaho State coach Rob Phenicie said the Battle of the Domes is always a big game for both sides.
“Anytime Idaho and Idaho State play, it’s a big game. Period. End of story,” Phenicie said. “Everybody from the high school level on up has played in these games, and they know how fun they are.”
Idaho leads the all-time series 29-12, and the Vandals have dominated as of late, going 12-2 against the Bengals since 1988.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino said his team’s rivalry week tradition is a simple one.
“Our tradition is to keep the trophy,” said Petrino, who gathered the team on Sunday to make sure all of his players understood its importance. “I told the freshmen their goal should be to always have it.”
Idaho State quarterback Tyler Vander Waal is new to the rivalry, after transferring in from Wyoming. He doesn’t know much about Black Flag week, but he understands how personal both sides take the game.
“They’re probably going to come in here and not pay us any respect and try to punch us in the mouth,” he said. “In 2019, they ran up the score on us, so there’s obviously bad blood.”
Both teams are coming off close games. Playing without starting quarterback Mike Beaudry last Saturday, Idaho knocked off Southern Utah, 33-32, after backup Nikhil Nayar connected with Cutrell Haywood on a touchdown pass with 7 seconds left.
Idaho State led UC Davis by three points with a little more than 3 minutes to play last weekend, but the Aggies found the end zone with eight seconds left to win, 31-27. It was the Bengals’ second straight close loss, after they fell to Eastern Washington 46-42 on March 13.
“I’m sick of being close,” Phenicie said. “I’m tired of being patted on the head and hearing, ‘You guys are getting there. It was a heck of a game.’”
Petrino wouldn’t say why Beaudry didn’t play last week or who would take the snaps on Saturday, suggesting instead that Idaho State prepare for Beaudry, Nayar and freshman CJ Jordan.
Idaho does have plenty of weapons to rely on in the passing game, though. Wide receiver Hayden Hatten leads the Big Sky Conference this year with 122.3 receiving yards a game. He ranks No. 2 in receptions (26) and No. 3 in total receiving yards (367).
Haywood ranks No. 9 in the conference in receptions (18) and No. 11 with 177 receiving yards. Idaho State’s Tanner Conner ranks No. 2 in the conference with 379 receiving yards, and he’s tied for No. 3 with three receiving touchdowns.
Defensively, the Vandals are led by a trio of linebackers. Despite missing last week’s game for undisclosed reasons, Tre Walker leads the team and is tied for No. 2 in the conference with 34 tackles.
Petrino said Monday that Walker will play Saturday, which means it could be tough sledding on the ground for the Bengals with him, Christian Elliss and defending Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week Fa’avae Fa’avae on the field together.
Fa’avae posted a career-high 18 tackles last week against Southern Utah, but Phenicie said Walker is the key to the Vandals’ defensive success.
“He’s the straw that stirs the dink,” Phenicia said. “You’ve got to know where he is at all times.”
Idaho State has a tackling machine of its own in linebacker Connor Wills, who leads the conference with 42 stops.
The Bengals are scheduled to end the regular season on April 10 at Weber State. Idaho hits the road the same day for a rematch of its season-opening win over Eastern Washington, and the Vandals wrap up the regular season April 17 in a game at Northern Arizona, which was rescheduled in March because of COVID-19.