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.”
With two weeks to go before college football kicks off, the sudden disintegration of the Western Athletic Conference has woken up sportswriters and bloggers from their fall camp reverie. We’ve got a compilation of the best (and bizarrest) writing on the WACsplosion.
- The latest-breaking development? Utah State confirms it, too, was approached by the MWC and offered membership — before either Fresno State or Nevada. But with honor and commitment, the Aggies refused to betray the WAC. Everyone left in the conference should consider USU their heroes. They rejected self-interested sabotage, and I hope they, and we, come out ahead for it.
- Sam Wasson’s BleedCrimson.net has a great rundown of this morning’s press conference with Karl Benson.
- SWX has a story on Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear’s press conference this afternoon. In short, Idaho is “committed” to staying with the WAC, come hell and high water. KXLY’s Ben Kaplan provides his take, too.
- ESPN’s Pat Forde examines the brutal history of the MWC and WAC’s “conference cannibalism.” Ray Ratto has similar thoughts at CBSSports.com.
- San Jose State is left in limbo, Jon Wilner writes in the Mercury News. Join the club, says Louisiana Tech — most damningly, the Bulldogs’ AD all but invites his program to be poached by another conference, preferably C-USA. Stephen Tsai of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser says Hawaii should quit the WAC and go independent.
- Whither BYU? Good question, as Cougar AD Tom Holmoe provides only cryptic answers to the Deseret News. “Things are playing out” indeed.
- Could Sacramento State and UC Davis save the WAC? That’s what the Sacramento Bee’s John Schumacher is wondering. The more Aggies the merrier, I suppose.
- Nevada got an offer it couldn’t refuse, or so says Scott Sonner. Yet Utah State did refuse it. Hmm.
- Silver and Blue Sports has a report on Nevada’s move up to the MWC. The Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray examines how the move might affect Wolf Pack programs.
- The Fresno Bee’s Dan Lyght and Bryant-Jon Anteola have a whole slew of stories on the Bulldogs’ jump to the MWC.
With the defections of Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West Conference effective in 2012, the future of the Western Athletic Conference is now in doubt — no matter how much WAC commish Karl Benson might try to deny it.
In an 80-minute marathon teleconference this morning, Benson spun like a top, talking about the “selfish” betrayal of the Bulldogs and the Wolf Pack on the eve of what could have been the conference’s grandest coup: recapturing BYU.
Yes, the WAC will get $10 million in buyout money and no, the latest defectors can’t leave for two years.
But the words WAC fans most needed to hear — solid commitments from new members — were conspicuously missing. Lots of what-ifs, possibilities and conversations, with Benson mentioning teams from Texas to California as being potentially interested in joining.
Unfortunately, the WAC can’t afford what-ifs, possibilities and conversations right now. The conference, and its six remaining members, need fresh blood to remain a viable league. If new members aren’t found by 2012, and the WAC drops to six teams for even a single season, we’re essentially talking about a dead league walking.
Already Benson admitted that Louisiana Tech is looking to bolt for Conference USA. Who else is thinking about finding an escape hatch? More to the point, who isn’t looking for an escape hatch at this point?
Imagine one of those ticking 24 clocks. Benson and the six WAC presidents realistically have only a few months to find a savior or two. Otherwise, it’s going to be every man for himself and the Western Athletic Conference will join the Pacific Coast Conference, the Metro Conference and the Southwest Conference, among others, in the annals of NCAA history.
For the Vandals’ part, we’ll have more thoughts after athletic director Rob Spear talks at 2 p.m. Pacific. The upshot? Idaho is in a horrible situation, yet there’s really no better alternative. It’s either ride out the WAC storm, go down with the ship or limp back to the Big Sky and FCS. If anyone has a better idea, let me know.
RENO, Nev. — We’re back in the Lawlor Events Center for the second day of quarterfinal action in the 2010 Western Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament.
The bracket for the men’s quarterfinals looks like this:
(1) Utah State vs. (8) Boise State — noon
(4) Louisiana Tech vs. (5) Fresno State — 2:30 p.m.
(3) New Mexico State vs. (6) San Jose State — 8:30 p.m.
We’ll have complete liveblog coverage of the Vandals/Wolf Pack showdown, with pregame analysis starting at 5:30 p.m., tip at 6.
The winners will play Friday in the semifinals, with the 1/8 and 4/5 winners squaring off in one matchup, the 2/7 and 3/6 winners in the other.
Yesterday, Idaho’s women made history, becoming the first Vandal team to reach the semifinals in any WAC basketball tournament since Idaho joined the conference in 2005. They defeated New Mexico State, 75-63, and will play the No. 1 seeded Fresno State Bulldogs on Friday at noon.
- For a complete rundown on the day’s conference tournament action across the mid-major leagues, check out The Mid-Majority’s Tourney Central.
- Follow us on Twitter — @VandalNation — for live courtside scoring updates throughout the WAC Tournament.
- The Spokesman-Review’s Josh Wright has a game preview of this evening’s Idaho/Nevada showdown.
- Nick Jezierny of the Idaho Statesman looks at Boise State’s final chance to make something of a disappointing season. Nick also checks in with a quicky on Idaho’s win over NMSU and storylines to watch this week.
- The Nevada Sagebrush is all over the WAC Tournament.
- Idaho’s “sneaky” squad could pose a threat to the Wolf Pack’s NCAA Tournament hopes — at least, so says the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray.
- Kraig Williams, a very good friend of the Vandal Nation, is liveblogging everything for Rush the Court. (h/t to Parsing the WAC.)
- Also check out the Las Cruces Bulletin’s courtside coverage.