Idaho Vandals

Maybe it’s time to put Idaho-Washington State rivalry out of its misery

Washington State running back Alijah Lee (36) runs for a touchdown against Idaho defensive lineman Kevin Shelton (13) and defensive end Will Schmidt (82) during the second half of their college football game in Pullman, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Washington State won 56-6.
Washington State running back Alijah Lee (36) runs for a touchdown against Idaho defensive lineman Kevin Shelton (13) and defensive end Will Schmidt (82) during the second half of their college football game in Pullman, Wash., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Washington State won 56-6. The Associated Press

In all likelihood, the Idaho Vandals and Washington State Cougars will cross paths at some point before the Palouse “rivals” are thrust onto the same football field again in four years.

It’s not uncommon for players to run into one another at house parties and local eateries. They occasionally rub elbows when a trendy musical act comes to town. It’s just what happens when two populous groups are separated by nothing more than 8 miles of grain fields.

Aside from one 2013 brawl, the community interactions are mostly civil.

But once every three or four years, the respective athletic directors throw civility out the door and mutually agree to pit their athletes against one another in the same arena. Throw in helmets, shoulder pads and spikes — not to mention overzealous and sometimes drunken fan bases peering on from above — it really becomes something of a gladiator versus beast grudge match rather than your everyday college football game.

Only in this matchup, history would dictate that the Cougars are the gladiator and the beast. What does that make the Vandals? In 71-of-91 meetings, they’ve merely been a savory snack. Something for the Cougs to nibble on until the main course of their season arrives.

And Saturday, in a 56-6 bloodbath at Martin Stadium, you couldn’t blame the home team for playing with its food.

A once-promising season for WSU opened with a home loss to FCS Eastern Washington. Then the Cougars flopped on the road against Boise State and seemed to suffer their largest defeat(s) of the 2016 campaign in the week leading up to the 92nd installment of the Battle of the Palouse when multiple defensive starters were arrested in separate cases involving alleged assault.

So on Saturday, WSU surely didn’t mind a visit from its gold-trimmed neighbors, who’ve always been silver medalists in this “rivalry” game. Hey, the Vandals do have 17 victories, and don’t you dare relinquish those three ties — 67 years ago, 89 years ago and, er, 108 years ago.

But we’ve reached Chapter 92 of this Palouse vendetta and the plot has lost a good deal of its intrigue. We’re at a point where the hand-to-hand combat between opposing coaches is more fascinating than that between opposing football teams.

Shoot. Maybe we’ve lost that, too.

Even with television crews following close behind, Idaho’s Paul Petrino and WSU’s Mike Leach accidentally — or intentionally — sidestepped each another following Saturday’s game.

“I didn’t see him,” Leach said. “I wish him the best, but I didn’t see him.”

If only he knew the handshake was the best part of the show.

Instead, Cougars corner Marcellus Pippins took it upon himself to give this episode its entertainment value. First, with a 72-yard scoop-and-score in the second quarter that effectively put this game out of reach, and then in a postgame news conference with his own rendition of a popular Bay Area jig — the “Thizzle Dance.”

But the feuds between big brother and little brother are usually only fun for one party and 71 of 91 times, little brother is the one getting whupped.

The Vandals?

“We got whupped,” Petrino said, using much of the same language he used after a 59-14 loss to the University of Washington the week prior. “… We kind of set up two of their early touchdowns offensively or (with) special teams. And that catches up to you when you’re playing a team like that.”

The Vandals have lost the last nine meetings with WSU. Other numbers indicating that this game is more sideshow than significant rivalry? Idaho has gone 136 minutes without scoring a touchdown in the Battle of the Palouse. Since their last “W” in 2000, the Vandals have been outscored by 399-99. Saturday, the Cougars scored multiple special teams touchdowns in the same game for the first time since 1973. Idaho was the opponent 43 years ago, too.

Maybe the Vandals will pose a stiffer challenge to Washington State once they drop their FBS tag and become FCS members. The Cougars do seem to shiver whenever they get a Big Sky Conference visitor anymore.

But as it is, the Vandals are the only ones with goose bumps. Meanwhile, the Cougars are one more 50-point romp away from getting a restraining order for their years of neighborly abuse.

WSU-Idaho regularly provides healthy entertainment elsewhere. Let these two duke it out on the futbol pitch, on the volleyball court, or in the swimming pool. The men’s basketball game is just getting interesting, too.

As for reasons to continue the gridiron gala?

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