War of words between Idaho State, Montana overshadows this week’s games

Idaho State football coach Rob Phenicie used to be an assistant coach at Montana.
Idaho State football coach Rob Phenicie used to be an assistant coach at Montana. Idaho State Journal

It was hard to tell whether Idaho State football coach Rob Phenicie was mocking or serious when he glowingly spoke about Montana in a news conference last week leading up to the Bengals’ home game against the Griz on Oct. 7.

Phenicie referred to Montana head coach Bob Stitt as an “offensive genius” and said the Bengals were lucky to even be on the same field as the Griz.

“I know we’re going to look at their film, and our guys will probably be in awe about how good and big they are,” Phenicie said.

Whether Phenicie meant to be sarcastic or not, Stitt didn’t like what he heard, and the bad feelings boiled over after Montana’s 39-31, come-from-behind victory in Pocatello.

Idaho State senior linebacker Mario Jenkins was injured in the first quarter, and Phenicie told the Idaho State Journal after the game that Montana players “were being extremely dirty in the pile.”

Stitt got wind of the comment this week and fired back at Phenicie.

“Those accusations, you know, people get in trouble when they talk and they don’t think. It’s one of those deals that when people attack our program, we do things the right way in every aspect of our program. And that disappointed me. All the things leading up to that (last week) disappointed me,” Stitt told the Missoulian’s Amie Just.

“It’s over. It’s over. We won the game and we’re moving on, but when you decide to become a head coach, you gotta act like a head coach. You’re not an assistant coach anymore and you have to represent your program. That’s all I can say about it, but it’s never gonna come from the Griz anything other than first-class play and actions from our team.”

Idaho State receiver Michael Dean was also publicly reprimanded by the Big Sky on Monday after TV cameras caught him flipping off Montana fans.

When the Statesman asked about the tone of Phenicie’s comments late last week, Idaho State’s Steven Schaack, assistant athletic director for media relations, said: “Coach respects (the) Montana program from his seven years there. He admits he over-exaggerated when making the statement in trying to compliment their program.”

The Bengals (3-3, 1-2) plan to leave the drama at home when they play at Sacramento State (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday. Kickoff is 7 p.m. Mountain time ( Idaho State has won two of its last three against Sacramento State, but both of those wins came in Pocatello.

Idaho looks to solve Appy State

The Vandals are winless in three previous meetings with Appalachian State (3-2, 2-0 Sun Belt), but hope to end that trend Saturday in the Kibbie Dome (3 p.m. MT, ESPN3).

Idaho (2-3, 1-1) has won 9 of its past 13 games and has not suffered back-to-back conference losses since 2015.

BYU travels to Mississippi State

After losing to Boise State last week, the Cougars (1-5) have their first five-game losing streak since 1970, and it won’t get any easier Saturday in Starkville, Miss. (10 a.m. MT, SEC Network). The Bulldogs (3-2, 1-2) are 24-point favorites over a BYU team that is averaging just 11.7 points and 253.5 yards per game.

C of I returns home

The College of Idaho plays its first home game in nearly a month when it hosts Montana Western (3-3, 3-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Simplot Stadium in Caldwell (99.1 FM).

The Yotes (2-4, 2-3) beat Carroll College 21-6 last week, which was the fewest points allowed by a C of I team since a 7-0 win against Eastern Oregon in 1976.

Rachel Roberts: 208-377-6422, @byrachelroberts