The last time Idaho State started a season 2-0, Larry Lewis was pacing the sidelines for the Bengals.
ISU beat Eastern Oregon (54-28) and Fort Lewis (42-3) to open its 1999 season, Lewis’ first. Fourteen years later, the Bengals are looking to equal that feet.
Idaho State defeated Dixie State 40-14 last Saturday, and welcome Western State Colorado University (Gunnison, Colo.) — another Division II school — to Holt Arena this weekend.
“Western State is a football team a lot like us,” said ISU head coach Mike Kramer. “A couple of years ago they started all over again, (and) they still haven’t found their footing.”
The Mountaineers went 1-10 each of the last two seasons, and opened 2013 with a 48-21 home defeat to No. 4 West Texas A&M.
“The game was not competitive early,” Kramer said. “They kept playing hard, though, and scored some touchdowns to make the score feel like it was a closer game.
“I believe that they will look at this as an opportunity to unveil their season, so we’ll be very careful about what they try to do to us.”
Western State hails from the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, and was picked in the RMAC preseason coaches poll to finish ninth out of 10 teams.
In order for the Bengals to begin their season with two victories and zero defeats, they will have to avoid the upset. Just last week, Colorado State-Pueblo (also from the RMAC) beat Big Sky opponent Northern Colorado 41-36 in Greeley.
Colorado State-Pueblo was picked to win the RMAC in the preseason. Western State obviously isn’t at that same level. On paper, the Bengals are a better team. That’s why they’re called upsets.
“We’re just going to come in focused,” said redshirt senior wide receiver Cam Richmond. “We had a good day of practice (Tuesday), and we’re going to keep having a good week. We just want to feel that winning feeling again like we felt in the locker room after Saturday’s game. We’re not going to let anything stand between that.”
Kramer is no stranger to the upset as a head coach. Twice during his seven years with Montana State he was beaten by schools from lower divisions.
“I woke up on Sunday absolutely fearful that we couldn’t repeat it again next week,” he said. “And my history is that I don’t repeat it.”
Central Washington defeated Kramer’s Bobcats in 2002, and Chadron State (also an RMAC school) beat them in 2006.
“These Division II teams can get after you if you’re really not careful and not prepared to play a full game,” Kramer said.
Looming next week for Idaho State is a trip to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies. Playing Western State is the proverbial trap game.
The Bengals are preparing to avoid just that.
“We just want to focus one game at a time,” said redshirt junior quarterback Justin Arias. “We just want to focus on this week against Western State-Colorado. We have to keep watching film on them and perform well against them. It’s a faceless opponent. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing; we’re just going to work on us.”
“(We have) to be razor-focused that this is week two of a 12-week process, not a game against Western State,” Kramer said.
The Bengals say this week-to-week mentality has them working to take on a faceless opponent. Kramer joked that he doesn’t even know who his team faces next weekend. He compares this season to building a nice piece of furniture. It’s a slow, melodic process where one must go step-by-step to avoid mishaps or errors.
“We have got to make sure that we don’t look away from the prize and saw our finger off in the table saw,” he said.
Idaho State and Western State kickoff from Holt Arena Saturday at 3:05 p.m.