Not a speck of orange spray paint found Marty Duffin, not even as he waded into the throng of black and orange at the base of Ravsten Stadium’s south goalposts. Quite the feat considering it was everywhere: on the uprights, on his players, on the field where his Idaho Falls team had just topped Skyline in a 38-34 thriller. In his hands, he carried the Emotion Bowl trophy. On his torso, he wore a gray shirt that read “2021: The Year It Happened” on the back.
“I kept it hidden,” Duffin said with a smirk.
So now that Duffin could remove the jacket that protected the shirt, he raised the trophy above his head. Tigers coaches, players and fans erupted. The players straddling the goalposts released primal screams. Their work was hardly complete — they missed a few spots covering the Skyline blue paint in Idaho Falls orange, which is what the winner of this rivalry gets to do, since they share the stadium — but this felt like the one occasion when players could get sloppy.
“It doesn’t even feel real,” Idaho Falls running back Kyan Jesperson said, beaming as he surveyed the impromptu party in front of him. “Like, it’s literally unbelievable. We’ve been dreaming about this since we were in elementary school.”
Nobody will blame Jesperson, who registered 16 carries for 122 yards and a score, for feeling dismayed. Idaho Falls had just authored a stunning comeback, rallying from three scores down in the fourth quarter and scoring the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left, good for the Tigers’ first win in this rivalry series in eight years. To win the game, senior quarterback Skyler Olsen scrambled and unfurled a 35-yard pass to receiver Hunter Miller, who pulled it down in the corner of the end zone.
"Just rolled out," Olsen said, "and Miller back-shouldered that."
The Tigers won by delivering similar drives down the stretch. Early in the fourth, Idaho Falls safety Daeson Hunter nabbed an interception, which allowed Olsen to hit junior Coltin Lyda on a 40-yard touchdown strike. That trimmed Skyline’s lead to 34-24 with nine minutes left. Two series later, Olsen found Beau Anderson for a 37-yard score. Skyline 34, Idaho Falls 31, four minutes left.
So when Idaho Falls forced a Skyline punt on the next drive, the Tigers were in business. Except their first play resulted in offensive pass interference. They trudged back to their own 20. No matter. Olsen hit Payton Somsen down the sideline for 40 yards. The Tigers lined up in Grizzly territory as the clock ticked under a minute.
When it hit 20 seconds, Olsen dropped back, scanned the field. Didn’t see anyone. Then he spotted Miller angling towards the right corner of the end zone, so he flung the ball that direction. Miller leapt, snagged it, fell down. Both feet in, ball secure, the weight of a seven-year losing streak gone into the night air.
“Honestly, I have no idea. It was a reaction,” Miller said, trying to find the words for a situation that hadn’t hit him yet. “He threw a perfect ball, back shoulder, away from the defender. It couldn’t have gone any better. It was a perfect throw.”
That’s what’s so special about the way the Tigers won, though. They've followed a winless season with what is now a 6-1 campaign. This will go down as their finest victory thus far. Yet on Friday, all the throws Olsen made, all the chunks of yards Jesperson ripped off, all the defensive stops Idaho Falls secured — they were few and far between in the first half. Even in the first few minutes of the second.
Instead, after Idaho Falls raced to a 10-0 lead behind a touchdown pass from Olsen to Lyda and a field goal, Skyline took over. The Grizzlies scored on a one-yard touchdown rush from Caden Taggart. On their next drive, Skyline quarterback Lachlan Haacke threw a touchdown pass to junior Kenyon Sadiq, who totaled six catches for 118 yards and three scores. On the series after that, Haacke hit Sadiq for another touchdown.
In a matter of minutes, all that Idaho Falls momentum had vanished. Jesperson used a 29-yard rush to set up a one-yard touchdown plunge, helping the Tigers pull back within four, but when the Grizzlies got the ball back, they kept things chugging.
It didn’t always look that way, not when Sadiq went back to punt, but when he caught a high snap and improvised with a 13-yard rush for a first down, Skyline’s offense marched back onto the field. As time expired, Haacke hit — guess who — Sadiq for a touchdown, right in the back of the end zone, where no Tigers could touch it. Skyline took a 27-17 lead into the intermission.
“He’s an incredible player,” Duffin said of Sadiq. “So we kind of got him out of the picture, and then just made the plays we needed to make — versus in the first half, a lot of the offensive and defensive plays we weren’t making.”
On the first drive of the second half, though, Idaho Falls still wasn’t making those plays. Skyline running back Abrahn Silverio dashed into the end zone from 21 yards out. The Grizzlies took a 34-17 lead — a three-score advantage with 8:36 to play. When the third quarter ended, the score remained the same.
Which is what made Idaho Falls’ first fourth-quarter drive so crucial. Olsen may have thrown that touchdown pass to Lyda, but on the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers snuck an onside kick down the field. They recovered it. They had the ball at the Grizzlies’ 35 with 9:34 left.
Here’s what’s interesting, though. Idaho Falls didn’t score on that drive. On a fourth-and-1, in a quarterback sneak formation, Olsen couldn’t handle the snap. Skyline recovered the fumble. All told, neither team benefited from their drives following that onside kick — not directly, at least.
“I think that’s when people started to cheer up,” Jesperson said. “The whole demeanor changed.”
“Ecstatic,” Jesperson said.
Good luck finding a better way to describe the scene after the game. It looked like an unreleased epilogue to Remember The Titans: The smell of the spray paint, the laughter, the screams of jubilee, the players taking pictures with their families, the Tigers in full uniform jumping around like school children — let’s gooooo!
For Idaho Falls, this dream season lives on. The Tigers went winless last season. Now they’re 6-1, reeling off victories in ways that imbue everyone with confidence that they can keep it up. When they’re older, these players will likely tell stories about this win. For now, they’ll focus on creating more like it.
“I planned it like this. I knew we were going to win,” Olsen said. “It’s so deserving of this community. Wow. It’s surreal.”
IDAHO FALLS 38, SKYLINE 34
Skyline 0 27 7 0 — 34
Idaho Falls 10 0 7 21 — 38
IF — Lyda 46 pass from Olsen (PAT good), 11:16
IF — No. 19 37 field goal, 6:16
S — Taggart 1 run (PAT good), 11:51
S — Sadiq 14 pass from Haacke (PAT good), 6:27
S — Sadiq 36 pass from Haacke (PAT good), 3:24
IF — Jesperson 1 run (PAT good), 2:58
S — Sadiq 20 pass from Haacke (PAT good), 0:00
S — Silverio 21 run (PAT good), 8:36
IF — Lyda 40 pass from Olsen (PAT good), 9:34
IF — Anderson 37 pass from Olsen (PAT good), 4:08
IF — Miller 35 pass from Olsen (PAT good), 0:15
RUSHING — Skyline: Silverio 13-64, Taggart 3-14, Haacke 9-56, Woodruff 11-22, Sadiq 1-6. Idaho Falls: Jesperson 16-122, Olsen 2 (-4).
PASSING — Skyline: Haacke 13-24-3 209. Idaho Falls: Olsen 10-20-3 249.
RECEIVING — Skyline: Taggart 3-30, Sadiq 6-118, Nottestad 2-14, Woodruff 4-53. Idaho Falls: Miller 3-48, Somsen 2-48, Anderson 1-37, Lyda 4-116.