The thunderous crowd at the Kibbie Dome had fallen silent and on the field, all that could be heard were the anguished cries of senior safety Shiloh Keo and junior linebacker Robert Siavii and a stream of verbal outbursts from Vandal defenders.
In the middle of it all lay senior Jo Jo Dickson, writhing in pain, clutching his fractured left leg.
On the previous play, Dickson had made a block for Idaho before being side-swiped by New Mexico State’s Kenny Turner on a late hit that sent Dickson to the turf.
Turner was whistled for a personal foul, but the damage had been done. Dickson was quickly attended by medical staff, put on a stretcher and rushed to Gritman Medical Hospital for surgery on an injury that will likely end the senior’s career as a Vandal.
Dickson’s final gesture in Vandal uniform – a wave to his teammates and the crowd in the Kibbie Dome, which erupted in cheers of ‘Jo Jo, Jo Jo’.
The single play overshadowed a huge night that saw Idaho’s offense build a 31-0 lead early on and, in large part due to the stifling play of Idaho’s defense, defeat the NMSU Aggies 37-14.
“It feels good, but it feels bad at the same time — it’s really hard to swallow,” said a visibly shaken Siavii, who is Dickson’s roommate. “He’s like my older brother. I’ve lived with him for two years. To see him out of the field really hurts me and just gave me an extra push to be even stronger.”
Following the play, Idaho coach Robb Akey knew of the dire situation of his teammates, calling them together and consoling Keo and Siavii.
“I saw some rage and a lot of hurt,” Akey said. “They lost one of their brothers during the course of the game today. You have no idea what kind of an impact that had. The guys overcame that and played hard and played well for the remainder of the game.”
The loss of Dickson is a staggering blow for Idaho. Not only did Dickson provide steady senior leadership on the field, he was Idaho’s fourth-leading defensemen, recording 34 total tackles and one interception in seven games.
“It’s really disheartening,” Siavii said. “But the whole defense — we’re strong. We have strong backup and we feel we are going to get our team back together again.”
For the third time this season, Idaho used strong-arm defense to clamp down on the opposition. The Vandals forced numerous three-and-out situations against the Aggies, who were looking for their first WAC win after entering the game with a woeful 1-5 record, and didn’t let the Aggies get on the board until the game was well out of reach.
“I think we got to comfortable,” said receiver Maurice Shaw. “We came out strong, but didn’t come out with the same desire and intensity after the half.”
NMSU got their first touchdown with seven second in the half on a 17-yard passing play, and struck late once again with 19 second remaining in the game.
“Defensively, I thought our guys continued to play pretty well,” Akey said. “I don’t like the score we gave up there at the end. We learned a lesson from that, but it’s an inexpensive one, ‘cause all it cost us was points on the board.”
Idaho’s offense was, once again, powered by Nate Enderle, who threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns. The Aggies came into the game being in the WAC cellar in regards to defense, and Idaho capitalized.
Idaho’s offensive cause was helped greatly by the return of Maurice Shaw, who returned from a one-game suspension and led the Vandal receivers with 73 yards and a touchdown reception. Shaw made the most of his six catches, including a Randy Moss impersonation in the end zone, as Shaw reached out and pulled in a one-handed pass for the score.
Idaho’s rushing game, however, is still lagging. Idaho brought up 88 rushing yards on 27 carries against New Mexico State. Several lapse in defense also cost the Vandals, who gave up a big NMSU touchdown pass that was waved off on an illegal formation on the part of the Aggies.
Akey said the squad will need to overcome the loss of Jo Jo and prepare for next weekend, when the Vandals travel to Hawaii to take on the Warriors.
Hawaii has been the surprise in the WAC, and are unbeaten in WAC play with a 4-0 record. Akey aknoladged it will be a tough battle, but said his squad will be ready for it when the time comes. For now, the focus is on another victory at home.
“We got our first WAC win today, and we are still undefeated in the Dome,” Akey said. “We’ve got another winning streak started.”