Bengal football alums drive nearly 50 hours from East Coast to watch ISU win big
POCATELLO — Rainy weather didn’t deter thousands of fans from tailgating before Saturday’s highly anticipated Idaho State University football game during which the Bengals easily beat the University of Idaho Vandals 62-28 at Holt Arena.
The game was the first time the Bengals have played the Vandals since 2008 and the first time they’ve played them in Pocatello since 1997. Additionally, this was the first time the Bengals have beat the Vandals since 1995.
For Joe Clarke, the win was nostalgic.
Clarke, a Virginia native who still resides in that state, was a member of the ISU football team that beat the Vandals for the very first time in 1969. He was so excited to see the in-state rivalry revived that he and former classmate Jim Galagher, who also played on the 1969 ISU team, drove nearly 50 hours to watch the game at Holt Arena.
“We played in the Idaho-Idaho State game, so we know how big it was,” said Clarke, who played fullback for the Bengals. “That’s why I came back, to watch the team, but also because there’s guys here I haven’t seen in 50 years. And we haven’t changed that much.”
According to Clarke, when word got around that the Bengals would once again go toe-to-toe with the Vandals, some of the Bengals who played on the 1969 team began to contact each other about a possible reunion at the game. Clarke said Galagher, who lives in New Jersey, said they had to go.
“He called me up and he said, ‘You’d better go out there,’” Clarke said.
So the two made the long trek to Pocatello from the East Coast.
Clarke taught at Pocatello High School for a year after graduating from ISU before he was drafted into the Army. He said his trip back here to watch Saturday’s game was the first time he has visited the Gate City in nearly 50 years.
“The environment has changed,” Clarke said about Pocatello. “And the town’s changed. When you’re a student, you don’t care about the community, so we didn’t pay any attention to that. Now to come back and to see all the different things, that’s pretty neat.”
Clarke said it was interesting to watch a new generation of football players, decades removed from when he played.
“Being a football player, you still want to be out there,” Clarke said. “It’s always in your blood.”
Saturday’s game didn’t quite break Holt Arena’s dry spell of not having sold out for an ISU football game since the Bengals played Boise State University in 1984. But more tickets were sold on Saturday than for any other ISU football game since 2003 when the Bengals played the University of Montana, according to ISU spokesman Stuart Summers.
Summers said preparations were made in order to make both the pre-game tailgating and the game itself run as smoothly as possible in light of the massive crowd.
“It’s one of those great challenges of trying to figure out how we’re going to accommodate so many excited fans,” Summers said. “We looked at it as a great opportunity for us to be able to come together and strategize and be prepared for every situation possible.”
ISU offered overflow parking in the parking lot adjacent to Reed Gym and opened the doors to Holt Arena earlier than usual. Summers said there was also an increased police presence at the game to ensure everyone’s safety.
Holt Arena weathered the large crowd well, except for a leak in the roof that allowed in some rain. The leaking roof is apparently something that happens at the arena when it’s raining outside.
Summers said having such a large crowd in attendance made a “big difference.”
“It’s a home field advantage,” Summers said. “That’s what the players want — a packed stadium out there cheering them on. It gives us that competitive edge where it’s going to be erupting with a lot of energy that the players will be able to feel.”
The historic win now gives the Bengals a 3-0 record in the Big Sky Conference for the first time since 1981.