Vander Waal vs. Weber

Idaho State quarterback Tyler Vander Waal (18) throws during the first half of a game against Weber State on Saturday at Holt Arena.

POCATELLO — Seventy-four yards, Tyler Vander Waal to Tanner Conner, touchdown.

After a grinding first half that featured plenty of positives but no points, it looked like the start of a shift for Idaho State football, like maybe all the new Bengals — nine new starters on offense, including the Wyoming transfer quarterback Vander Waal — had settled in and were about to do something special.

Vander Waal slung the ball from the right hash all the way across the field to Conner, wide-open on the left sideline after running a deep comeback route.

Conner gathered in the frozen rope, bashed through a couple Weber State defenders and sprinted down the sideline, diving into the end zone with Weber State safety Eddie Heckard on his back.

Not even two minutes into the second half, more than year after they'd stepped on a field for the last time, the connection between the two roommates brought the Bengals back to within a score of Weber State at 14-7.

"Obviously Tanner's fast, he's a big guy, he's going to go up there and make plays," Vander Waal said. "Living with him doesn't hurt anything, just having that chemistry of, OK, Tanner's going to go make a play for me, and then if he doesn't, I'll make sure he hears about it at the house."

Considering they were probably unlucky to be down two touchdowns at the break given how well they'd played in the first half against the No. 4 team in the country, the play brought plenty of optimism — and some dangerous thoughts — creeping in for ISU.

Could the Bengals spring the upset?

On a day when four top-10 FCS teams had already lost, in a spring season where nothing is guaranteed, had everybody misjudged these two teams?

It was a nice thought — and it didn't even last until the end of the third quarter, as Weber State scored four straight touchdowns in the final 11 minutes, 40 seconds of the period to take a 42-7 lead to the fourth in an eventual 49-21 win at Holt Arena on Saturday.

After a full half of slow, steady progress — and one incandescent 74-yard flash of potential — it turned out that the Idaho State Bengals are who everybody thought they were: a young, untested team that's replacing nearly all of its starters coming off a 3-9 season and will have a lot of growing pains in what amounts to a developmental spring season.

"It shows the difference with a young program and a program that's established and has won three Big Sky championships," ISU head coach Rob Phenicie said. "At our Thursday meeting, (offensive coordinator) Mike Ferriter had the guys raise their hand who played against Weber in 2019. We had three. ... So we're building from scratch and we're learning about our team as we go along here."

If things continue to look like they did on Saturday, that means long stretches where the Bengals almost look like they could be something and just as much time where they look hopelessly lost.

Idaho State trailed 14-0 at halftime, but actually had more first downs than the Wildcats, 13 to 10. The Bengals had three straight drives — and four in total in the first half — end at or inside the Weber 35-yard line, the first when Vander Waal threw an interception and the latter three all on punts.

Foreshadowing their quick-strike second half, Weber State scored its two second-quarter touchdowns 1:11 apart. The first came on a 27-yard pass straight up the middle to running back Josh Davis one play after Vander Waal's second interception of the first half, and the second on a 55-yard flea-flicker to David Ames one play after an ISU punt.

The third-quarter pattern was similar. Weber State quarterback Bronson Barron, a freshman making his first start, answered Conner's long touchdown with a 38-yard scoring toss to Rashid Shaheed.

Conner controversially fumbled after a long gain on ISU's next drive — Phenicie said the refs couldn't overturn the call on the field because of poor camera angles — Barron hit Shaheed for a 10-yard score on a back-shoulder throw, and the Wildcats were off to the races.

ISU's offense couldn't stop the bleeding, producing two three-and-outs on its next two possessions, holding the ball for a total of 2:56 between the two drives, and Weber added rushing scores by Davis and Dontae McMillan before the end of the third.

Vander Waal threw scores of 13 yards to Jeff Harris and 52 yards to Conner in the fourth quarter and McMillan added another short touchdown run for Weber State.

In his first start, Vander Waal finished 17 of 42 for 304 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

"I'm my harshest critic, so I would say I played at maybe a C level," Vander Waal said. "Those picks, whether it's my fault or not, those hurt. Missed reads, sacks on third down. But you also have to look at the cup as half-full. I had three touchdowns. We showed, as an offense, that we can move the ball, we can run the ball efficiently. There were a lot of positives to take from that game."

Conner finished with six catches for 167 yards and two scores. Every other player to catch a pass for the Bengals — besides tight end Nate Shubert and running back Malakai Rango, who combined for 21 yards on three catches, was making his collegiate debut.

"What I want to see is us get better next week, and the week after, and so on down," Phenicie said. "We're a young team and we're going to continue to get better, that's part of the fun of this."

Wills led ISU's defense with 12 tackles.

Official attendance was reported as 2,211. Idaho State is allowing "approximately 2,800" fans per game in Holt Area for the spring season.

WEBER STATE 49, IDAHO STATE 21

Weber State 0 14 28 7 — 49

Idaho State 0 0 7 14 — 21

Passing — Weber State: Barron 17-27-312-4-0, Johnson 2-2-37-0-0. Idaho State: Vander Waal 17-42-304-3-2.

Rushing — Weber State: Davis 11-106-1, Wright 4-86, McMillan 9-51-2, Barron 5-42, Abercrombie 2-7, Johnson 4-1, Jones 1-(-1). Idaho State: Rango 15-70, Hunter 7-31, Gasu 3-16, Vander Waal 9-(-6).

Receiving — Weber State: MacPherson 3-93, Shaheed 5-73-2, David 5-69-1, Ames 2-57-1, Christensen 3-46, Hadley 1-11. Idaho State: Conner 6-167-2, Guillory 2-55, Frederickson 5-48, Shubert 2-26, Harris 1-13-1, Rango 1-(-5).