The Idaho State Bengals are a proud football program who have fallen on rough times, and have had difficulty escaping them. From 2007 to 2010, head coach John Zamberlin had arguably the worst head coaching tenure in school history, going just 6-39, a win percentage of .133.
That level of terrible is difficult to recover from, as current head coach Mike Kramer has discovered. While the Bengals have made some small steps forward under Kramer, they have still continued to struggle mightily.
In Kramer's first two seasons, the Bengals had won only three games, two of which were against Division II opponents. The lone win against an FCS opponent came against fellow Big Sky team Northern Colorado, a 50-20 victory at home in Pocatello on September 17, 2011.
Through five games this season, Idaho State was 2-3. While the two wins were once again earned against Division II opponents, the Bengals looked competitive in two of their losses (with one loss being a blowout against nationally ranked FBS team Washington).
The Bengals started off their FCS slate with a 30-13 loss against conference foe UC Davis. The game was actually quite close, with the score standing at 16-13 with four minutes left on the clock.
One week later, the Bengals nearly got a conference win against North Dakota, but suffered a heartbreaking 28-25 loss that denied them their first Big Sky win in over two years.
So despite the obvious improvement this year, Idaho State came into the sixth game of the season, against Northern Colorado, still looking for that elusive victory that would break the over-two-year streak of not having any wins against conference teams (or FCS teams at all).
Well, the Bengals finally broke through, getting a 40-26 win at home against the Bears.
The offense ran like a well-oiled machine against Northern Colorado, racking up 532 yards.
QB Justin Arias continued to be prolific through the air in the Bengals' pass-heavy offensive system, going 28-of-41 for 375 yards and four touchdowns. He also cut down on the interceptions that have plagued him this season. After throwing seven interceptions through the first five games, he didn't toss a single one against the Bears.
Arias had a good connection going with his top two receivers, as Luke Austin had 173 yards and three touchdowns while Cameron Richmond added 102 yards receiving.
Perhaps most importantly, running back Xavier Finney had the kind of standout rushing performance that has been missing in Pocatello for a long time. Finney carried 37 times for 146 yards and a touchdown, the best individual rushing performance by a Bengal since 2009.
At 3-3, Idaho State is off to their best start since 2005. The last time the Bengals won three games in a season was 2007, when they went 3-8. With six games remaining, they have a pretty good chance at surpassing that this season.
While the Idaho State Bengals may only be a .500 team right now, they are making huge strides forward for a team who has been one of the worst in the FCS for the last few seasons.
So while a 14-point win over a 1-6 team may not seem like that big of an accomplishment, for the Idaho State Bengals it is a big stepping stone on their journey back to success.
Kramer's squad has finally broken through.