Under the venerable arch of the Kibbie Dome, thousands of Idaho fans flooded the field Saturday night, joining Vandal players and coaches in turning the turf black.
The scoreboard read Vandals 31, Rams 29 — and the brutal years of futility, frustration and failure were being erased in one spontaneous moment of collective catharsis. As Vandal Nation celebrated together, a whole generation of students were learning to be proud of Idaho football again.
A sellout crowd of 16,000 (and a national television audience on ESPNU) had just witnessed the Vandals methodically claw back from a 14-point first quarter deficit to edge a 3-1 Colorado State squad that had stomped Nevada and Colorado and fallen just short at nationally-ranked BYU.
All had looked lost early on, after junior quarterback Nathan Enderle threw an interception in the end zone to set up the Rams’ first score, and a long punt return minutes later gave Colorado State perfect field position to go up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. After putting together a 3-1 start, the team’s best in its FBS history, the Vandals appeared to be reverting to form. The college football punditry would, no doubt, have had a field day. “Idaho was a fluke,” they’d say. “It’s going to be another awful season in Moscow.”
Their skepticism is understandable. As one forum wag wrote, last year’s Idaho team “folded like a tent” at the slightest sign of adversity. Small early deficits routinely became blowout losses as the Vandals would go into panic mode — fumbling, throwing interceptions and generally looking more like a high school junior varsity squad than a team competing at the highest level of collegiate sports.
But this isn’t last year’s Idaho team.
Instead, the Vandals began to rouse. Wideout Max Komar caught four passes on the ensuing drive, setting up a 31-yard touchdown strike from Enderle to Eric Greenwood, who has skillfully used his 6-6 height all season to create big mismatches on defense. Idaho was on the board. All was not lost.
The Vandals would give up another touchdown before the half, but Jeromy Jones came up huge and blocked the extra point. No one realized it at the time, but that would be the turning point. A Trey Farquhar field goal made it 20-10 Rams going into halftime, but Idaho would receive the kickoff. Hope hung in the air. Not a soul had left the Dome. The fans still believed — though everything they’d seen for the past decade told them not to.
Their faith would not go unrewarded.
Coming out of the locker room, the Vandal offense went into overdrive. Enderle hooked up with his receiving corps like they were born together, picking apart the Ram secondary with 15 and 20-yard strikes to Komar and Greenwood. Three drives, three touchdowns — and Idaho had the lead.
On the other side of the ball, the Vandals went into defensive lockdown. Three Ram drives turned into a missed field goal, a made FG and a turnover on downs deep in Idaho territory. The tables were turned — now it was Colorado State in full-on panic mode.
But the Rams are no pushover, and it’s here that the Vandals’ crucible was cast. Ram QB Grant Stucker drove Colorado State down the field to score — but Jones’ blocked extra point meant the Rams would need a 2-point conversion to tie. Sixteen thousand people held their breath. John Mosure took the ball around the left — and was body-slammed a foot short of the end zone by safety Shiloh Keo. No good. The Dome exploded.
The game still wasn’t over. After Keo covered up the onside kick, the Vandals couldn’t drive and burn off the clock. Bobby Cowan had to punt it away and give the Rams one more shot.
Stucker took the snap, dropped back and hurled a pass across the right slant — into Keo’s waiting arms. Game over.
The Dome exploded again. The past was forgotten. The field-storming was on.
After the game, Keo, who made three game-saving plays in the final minutes, summed up the feeling that night for a team, a fanbase and a university that has for so long labored under the stigma of abject sporting failure.
“To come here and just lose two or three years straight, it’s heartbreaking,” Keo said. “We have so much passion and love for this game, nobody’s here to lose. For us to start 4-1, it’s like being reborn.”