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Bengals long to go back a couple generations

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant

KTVB.COM

Posted on July 21, 2010 at 7:31 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 21 at 11:16 AM

 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010.
 
When Boise State played its first season as a four-year school in 1968, the biggest deal of all was getting a game against Idaho State—in Boise, no less. The Broncos upset the Bengals that day, 27-20, in the old wooden stadium by the river. It’s stunning what’s happened since. BSU and ISU last played in the Big Sky together 15 years ago. We don’t have to run though the Broncos’ laundry list. But the Bengals have not been to the Division I-AA Playoffs since 1983—and have had only five winning seasons in the 26 campaigns since. Only narrow victories in the season finales have averted winless seasons the past two years. So it comes as no surprise that Idaho State has been picked to finish last again in the Big Sky in 2010.
 
Former Timberline High quarterback Russel Hill, going into his senior season with the Bengals, recites the party line on the preseason polls. “It is a motivator, but really if the rest of league knew what we had going they wouldn't pick us there," Hill said.  "It's just a preseason deal and they make it every year.  It's not going to do anything but motivate us more, because we know the talent we have in our locker room." Coach John Zamberlin is 5-29 at Idaho State since taking over from Larry Lewis three years ago. 
 
Fan support for Idaho State continues to wane, as average attendance in Holt Arena last season was just 5,369, even with a home game against Montana. There was a time when the Bengals ruled Southern Idaho, from the Magic Valley to Yellowstone. At their peak, during the 1981 Division I-AA national championship season, they drew full houses of over 12,000 fans to Holt Arena four times. The facility’s record remains the 13,895 that crammed in there the year before for the game against Boise State that decided the Big Sky title (hello, fire marshal). Now, Twin Falls is Bronco territory. In fact, the unthinkable has happened, as sales of Boise State gear dwarfs that of Idaho State in the eastern part of the state. Bronco football games are on local TV and radio. The Bengals would like to take their turf back. But winning is an obvious prerequisite.
 
If and when Boise State is fortunate enough to get back to Glendale, in whatever game, the identities of those people in the gold sportcoats may have changed. Things have boiled over with the Fiesta Bowl, as the Arizona attorney general’s office has been asked to investigate claims that bowl employees made illegal campaign contributions to politicians friendly to the bowl. We first heard about this story in late December when the Broncos were preparing for their second trip to the desert to play TCU. This might not be pretty.
 
Fresno State, in most seasons the WAC leader in football attendance, is concerned about sagging season ticket sales and is doing something about it. Now through July 30, the school is selling season packages in one section of Bulldog Stadium for just $100. The angle is Fresno State’s 100th anniversary—it’s a centennial special. The Bulldogs have seven home games this season, an extreme rarity down there (the first time in 16 years), yet they’ve sold only 17,000 season tickets so far. The San Joaquin Valley has been particularly hard-hit by the recession.
 
This new split-season thing in the Northwest League is actually pretty exciting. The Boise Hawks are back in first place in the East Division with six first half games to play after a 3-0 victory over Spokane last night at Memorial Stadium. Juan Serrano, Carlos Rojas and Aaron Kurcz combined on a four-hitter in the Hawks’ second shutout of the season. Serrano, the one-time Cuban defector, threw the first five innings to improve his record to 4-0. Despite only three runs offensively, Boise’s bats were far from quiet. The Hawks collected 10 hits and have now amassed 60 hits over the past four games. They stay home tonight to face the Tri-City Dust Devils for the first time this summer.
 
Former Hawk Andrew Cashner picked up his first major league victory last night, and he earned it in the Cubs’ 14-7 win over the Astros at Wrigley Field. On the day manager Lou Piniella announced his retirement effective at the end of the season, Cashner was perfect in the sixth and seventh innings after starter Ryan Dempster had yielded all seven Houston runs. Cashner, the first-round draft pick who was on the mound in Memorial Stadium just two years ago, had lost the first three decisions of his big league career despite pitching well. Two other ex-Hawks helped—Sean Marshall followed Cashner with a perfect eighth, and Geovany Soto hit his 12th home run of the season.
 
When Boise State joins the Mountain West a year from now, its men’s basketball team had better be ready for a heavy dose of Steve Alford. And another, and another. Alford signed his contract yesterday, extending his deal at New Mexico through 2020. He led the Lobos to their best record ever last season at 30-5 and is the winner of the past two Mountain West Coach of the Year awards. New Mexico spirited Alford away from Iowa three years ago—he’s gone 76-26 since.
 
This Day In Sports…July 21, 1968:
 
Perhaps the most popular boxer in Idaho history is born. His name is Kenny Keene, and he would parlay a great run through the Golden Gloves ranks into what you might call a “controlled” pro career. It started modestly with raucous bouts at Caldwell’s O’Connor Fieldhouse and evolved into some national television appearances and the IBF cruiserweight championship. But he was always true to his Idaho roots. Keene first retired in 2000—and hung ‘em up for good in 2006. Kenny is 42 years old today.
 
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 1350 KTIK/The Ticket. He’s also handled color commentary on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football the last five seasons.)

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