The Bengals needed a pick-me-up. Idaho State University delivered.
Two days after a late rally against UC Davis came up short, the ISU football team was back in Pocatello to begin Homecoming week. Things started Monday with an enlightening bonfire.
A wooden structure that spelt out “UND” (University of North Dakota, Idaho State’s opponent), was burnt in the Holt Arena parking lot, much to the enjoyment of head coach Mike Kramer.
“College athletics is kind of about the show, and the show already began Monday night,” he said. “Let’s continue being part of the show and be successful.”
The Bengals said the ceremonial burning of their opponent’s name lifted their spirits from the doldrums of losing what they felt was a winnable game.
“It was awesome,” said junior linebacker Mitch Beckstead. “The whole team was there. We had a yell going in the middle of the bonfire, and we had the student body fired up and ready to go.”
ISU’s entire football team was in attendance, and the mood shifted.
“It was easily one of the coolest things I have ever seen here,” Kramer said. “It just goes to show you that there are a lot of things about Idaho State University, that, for whatever reason, remain slightly hidden, that the public, our fans and our own team is kind of amazed at. It made me feel really good about being the coach here.”
“If you get excitement like that, you get reenergized,” Beckstead said. “The guys just want to win. I’ve never seen that many people there or that much excitement before.”
Kramer said that energy and excitement carried into the team’s practices Tuesday and Wednesday. The Bengals stopped feeling sorry for themselves and turned their attention to mascot-less North Dakota.
“Really, we’re sick of losing. We want to win, and you can feel it around the team,” Beckstead said. “The attitude has changed, everything’s changed after that UC Davis loss. It was right there. We had it in our fingertips. I guess we got a little taste of what it would be like to win, and we want it so bad.”
Idaho State knows the challenge UND poses. The biggest is senior wide receiver Greg Hardin, a returning All-American. The threat of Hardin going deep makes North Dakota’s play-action pass lethal.
Redshirt senior cornerback Cameron Gupton is tasked with covering Hardin and not biting on play-action.
“We can’t get caught up in the run,” Gupton said. “We have to make sure we lock up on our man first and do what our coaches have told us the whole week in practice.”
“It falls on us, especially with our eyes in the secondary, to play with good eyes,” Kramer said.
The Bengals will never use the term “must-win” when describing a game, but the season’s goal of winning a Big Sky title means this Saturday’s contest is the closest thing.
“A lot of things are on the line for us this Saturday,” Kramer said. “Everything we want in the 2013 season is still there. The table is still set, we’ve just got to eat from the banquet.”
Notes: Kramer said starting nose tackle Tyler Kuder will not play Saturday and is “unavailable for the immediate future.” Defensive lineman David Forester will not play, either. Colin Prestesater and Jim Bagley have switched sides. Prestesater moves from left to right tackle and Bagley from right to left. Idaho State is 0-3 all-time against North Dakota, its last game a 38-35 defeat at home in 2008.