POCATELLO — The Idaho State University football team hasn’t had home field advantage against its in-state rival, the University of Idaho Vandals from Moscow, in more than 20 years.
And the last time ISU packed Holt Arena in Pocatello with a sellout crowd — Ronald Reagan was president.
The three-decade-plus home sellout hiatus, which dates back to 1984 when ISU lost its homecoming game against Boise State 26-23, is expected to come to an end on Saturday, however, according to ISU Interim Athletic Director Pauline Thiros, who told the Journal on Wednesday that tickets for the game will likely sell out before kickoff at 3:35 p.m. on Oct. 6.
“We’re hovering right at about 10,000 tickets off the table right now with about 1,700 tickets to go,” Thiros said. “We sold about 400 to 500 tickets this morning and the remaining tickets could be gone by as early as Friday afternoon.”
The Bengals are searching for their first victory against the Vandals since 1995 when both teams were members of the Big Sky Conference. Coincidentally, that season was the last time ISU started conference play 2-0 like it has so far this year.
After several years in various conferences, most recently the Sun Belt Conference, the Vandals elected to rejoin the Big Sky for the 2018-2019 season. This is the first meeting between the Vandals and Bengals in Pocatello since Sept. 13, 1997, a game Idaho won 43-0.
In an effort to tip the scales in ISU’s favor, students, fans and the entire Bengal community are encouraged to turn Thiros’ prediction of a sell-out crowd into a reality.
To top last Saturday’s massive outpouring of fan support for ISU’s homecoming game — which saw over 9,100 people pack the seats of Holt Arena for the highest home attendance since the Cal Poly game at the end of the 2014 season — Thiros and the ISU Athletics department have announced several gameday events and activities to keep the Bengal hype-train strong.
You may have heard about “whiteout” or even “blackout” games occurring at college football stadiums over the years where all fans in attendance wear a singular color. But have you ever heard of a “stripe-out”?
That’s the plan on Saturday, Thiros said, adding that all fans are encouraged to check their ticket and seating assignment to find out whether they should wear black or orange to the game.
Each section in Holt Arena will alternate colors for adjacent sections to give the stands the visual effect of the stripes on a Bengal tiger.
Fans should wear orange if their tickets are in the following sections: A, C, E, G, J, M, O, Q, S and U. Fans should wear black if their tickets are in sections B, D, F, H, K, L, N, P, R, and T.
“We think this makes it a ton of fun for the fans and will create a dynamic environment inside Holt Arena,” Thiros said. “We know it will look great and give us a nice striped appearance to support our Bengals.”
In two games this season ISU’s average home attendance is 7,096. Holt’s average attendance hasn’t been over 7,000 for a season since 2015 when ISU was one of the preseason favorites in the Big Sky.
Thiros is also expecting a record number of pre-game tailgaters to attend the several different events hosted in the parking lot of Holt Arena.
Of the 9,129 people who attended the game last week, more than one-third of those fans also attended pre-game tailgating events. Thiros said over 3,000 people attended the Alumni and Fan Tailgate, which is hosted on the Idaho Central Credit Union Practice field at the Papenberg Sports Complex.
Fans participated in fun and exciting pregame activities, enjoyed some grub from several unique food trucks, drank locally brewed beverages from Portneuf Valley Brewing in Pocatello and engaged directly with the football players as they made their way into Holt Arena for the gameday Bengal Walk.
“We know we had 3,000 people tailgating on the South side and that doesn’t include people who attended BengalFest on the North side or the F.A.T. (Football Alumni Team) Club tailgate at their clubhouse on the East side,” Thiros said. “On Saturday, BengalFest starts at 1:30 p.m. and the Alumni and Fan Tailgate starts at 1 p.m.”
Free parking for the game is available in the lot adjacent to Reed Gym, which is in addition to the $5 parking at Holt Arena. Parking lots open at 8 a.m. on gameday. The doors to Holt Arena open at 2 p.m.
In addition to the contest between the two schools’ football programs on the turf, Thiros said both schools are competing to secure the most canned food donations with collection sites for both teams at various tailgate locations before the game.
“We think this is a fun way to encourage competition while also helping out the local food banks,” Thiros said.
Moreover, the Bengal and Vandal football game is the first time that the sport will be included in Idaho Central Credit Union’s rivalry series, the “Battle of the Domes.”
The series operates on a point system where each school can earn a maximum of 60 points per year based on head-to-head competition between the Bengals and Vandals in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, soccer, and volleyball.
So far, ISU is winning the competition after its volleyball team recently defeated the Vandals 3-1 on Sept. 29, Thiros said. The team with the most points at the end of the season will be awarded a traveling “Battle of the Domes” trophy and will receive a donation from Idaho Central to their athletic scholarship fund.
Thiros attributed much of the renewed support of the Bengal football team to the fact ISU is winning important games.
“First and foremost the student athletes and the coaches are doing a great job developing the team,” she said. “We have done well and won some football games. That, and I think all of the fans, alumni and partners in the community have done a great job coming together pre-game to create a fun and exciting environment. It’s just an exciting time for ISU. It’s the beginning of a new era and people are getting on the train to be part of it.”
Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad, who challenged Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert on Monday to wear a Bengals tie to a Moscow City Council meeting if the Bengals win on Saturday, echoed Thiros’ sentiments.
“I think it is awesome that the Bengals are playing the way they are,” Blad said. “People like to see really good, hard-fought games and the Bengals are delivering.”
Blad said he is a “little surprised” about how many people have jumped on the Bengal hype-train so early into the season, “but I’m not shocked.”
“It goes to show that if you win a couple games you will have the support to follow,” Blad said. “The win in North Dakota helped a tremendous amount and the homecoming game was even better. Now we have Idaho and this is the first time in decades that an Idaho and Idaho State football game means something. I’m excited to see this rivalry build.”