POCATELLO, Idaho – Four teams have a shot to share the Big Sky Conference football championship heading into the final Saturday of the league race.
None of them have the initials ISU or WSU.
While Weber State (1-9, 1-6 Big Sky) and Idaho State (1-9, 0-7) slug it out today at the bottom of the conference standings, not the top, does a season-ending contest pitting two teams with one FCS victory between them mean anything?
If you ask the Wildcats — yes.
It means bragging rights between border rivals, with the Wildcats bringing a nine-game winning streak against the Bengals to town.
It’s a chance for players to end a tough season on a positive note, particularly seniors in their final game.
It’s the last step for Wildcats interim coach Jody Sears and his staff before finding out if the steadiness they brought to the program in the wake of John L. Smith’s sudden departure was enough to outweigh the shortage of Ws in the win column.
Weber State’s lone victory so far came against in-state rival Southern Utah in Week 8, while Idaho State hasn’t won since a Week 2 rout of Division II Black Hills State.
Kickoff is at 4 p.m. at Holt Arena.
Sears said his players and staff haven’t quit on this season.
“There hasn’t been any cashing it in or checking out, any of that stuff,” he said.
“It’s been a lot of fun. Has it been a little bit of a blur? Yeah, maybe a little, just because you’re in the season and things are going pretty fast, but I’ve enjoyed every week and every day of it. I just hope to be able to continue it, to continue with the plan.”
The lack of on-field success has been frustrating, but “you can’t confuse effort with results,” Sears said.
There are lessons to take from the difficulty of this season, he said.
“I’m going to tell them what they went through this season is gonna be every day they wake up to go to work or every day they wake up to meet a new challenge. They’re going to have a foundation on what that’s supposed to look like. My message to (the players) is going to be extremely simple,” Sears said.
Today’s rivalry contest isn’t a meaningless game to Wildcats senior quarterback Mike Hoke, who threw for a season-high 310 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s loss to Northern Colorado.
In two seasons as the starter, Hoke ranks eighth in school history in passing yards and can move into sixth place by throwing for 145 yards today, but having suffered through a shoulder injury as a junior and the Wildcats’ struggles as a senior, he had higher hopes for his career.
“It means a lot to have another opportunity to play the game,” Hoke said. “You never know when it’s going to be your last one, like if you get hurt like Shaydon (Kehano) or the other guys that are out for the season, so I’m thankful we’re getting an opportunity, all these guys, the whole team, one more time to play together.”
On the other sideline, ISU coach Mike Kramer is ready for the season to be over.
“It can’t get here fast enough,” he said. “We’re playing with six scholarship players on defense (after losses to injuries) and we look like it. … Our defense has paid the price for that. We’re historically bad.”
While Weber State has struggled to score (19.4 points per game), ISU has struggled to stop anyone, allowing a Big Sky record 552 points (55.2 ppg, last in the nation).
Bengals senior quarterback Kevin Yost holds Big Sky single-season records for pass attempts and completions and receiver Rodrick Rumble became the school’s all-time leading receiver last week, but ISU (21.4 ppg) hasn’t been able to get in the end zone much more often than WSU.