Somewhere in his head, Dakota Baker knew there were bigger things in life than the 2013 Emotion Bowl. He’s a smart guy. He had perspective, even as a teenager.
“But to me,” Baker said, “that was the only thing that mattered in the world.”
So eight years ago, Baker took the field at Ravsten Stadium, the site of the annual Emotion Bowl between Idaho Falls and Skyline. The atmosphere sticks with him the most. A receiver for the Tigers, Baker remembers the hype, the trash talk, how important this one was to everyone involved.
It didn’t take long for the Tigers to prove it. They jumped out to a 22-0 lead before the Grizzlies got on the board. Eventually, Idaho Falls earned a 44-24 win. It wasn’t exactly a blowout — at the time, this matchup rarely was — but the Tigers didn’t have to sweat, either.
“Going in, we knew we were going to win,” said Clayton Powell, an Idaho Falls receiver/cornerback combo on that year’s team. “We were ready for the party afterwards.”
The game bears revisiting because it’s the last time Idaho Falls won the rivalry contest, the last time the Tigers earned the right to paint the goalposts orange. Skyline has won seven straight, including a 40-9 bludgeoning last season, which solidified what has become obvious over the last stretch: The Grizzlies have owned this matchup.
Which is what makes Friday’s installment so intriguing. For the first time since that game eight years ago, Idaho Falls will enter with the better record. The Tigers are 5-1. The Grizzlies are an uncharacteristic 3-3. Last week, Idaho Falls made a cameo in the 5A media poll rankings for the first time since that season. The defense has stonewalled opponents and a new-look offensive scheme has helped the club score in bunches.
If there was ever a year for the Tigers to end this losing skid, it’s this one. So let’s examine the last time they did.
“It never felt close on our end,” Powell said. “I’m sure that’s just how I felt, not necessarily how everyone felt.”
Powell had a point, though. Not only did Idaho Falls race out to a 22-0 lead — thanks to a touchdown pass from A.J. Martin to Powell, a touchdown rush from Jake Thornberry and another from Deric Deede — but the Tigers’ defense made sure the squad kept the lead.
Skyline rallied for two straight scores, plus a two-point conversion to draw within 22-16, but that’s the closest the Grizzlies came.
“I remember being kind of nervous in the second half,” Baker said. “It seemed like they were coming back.”
They never did. Instead, the Tigers and their fans celebrated on the field. The players brought out the orange spray paint, climbed atop the uprights and lathered them in their favorite colors.
“That was the most fun part,” Baker said. “I had always done that as a fan. I had always run onto the field, and I had always seen the older players climb on the goalposts, and I had always wanted to do that. So that was pretty fun. That was really awesome.”
A lot has changed since then, but this year, Idaho Falls looks primed to end the streak. Quarterback Skyler Olsen has found a groove, hitting receivers like Hunter Miller and Beau Anderson, and running back Kyan Jesperson has rebounded from a groin injury to keep his offense moving in the ground game.
The Tigers’ defense has opened the door for their offense to keep things rolling. Linebacker Hunter Herrera, safety Daeson Hunter and lineman Grayson Thomas have all made enormous impacts on that side of the ball. Throw in the fact that Anderson plays corner as well and you get a defense that has surrendered 20 points or fewer in four of six outings.
So that’s the challenge for this Skyline offense, which is acclimating to new faces like quarterback Lachlan Haacke: How do we keep improving? Earlier in the season, the defending 4A state champions didn’t exactly look the part, falling to 1-3 with a home loss to conference foe Blackfoot.
But the Grizzlies have used two wins to start looking like the Grizzlies of old. Skyline followed that Blackfoot loss with a 33-0 shutout of Bonneville. Last week, the Grizzlies clobbered Madison, 38-14, jumping out to a nice lead that held for the rest of the contest.
“It was nice because our offense executed better,” Berger said. “Lachlan Haacke is getting more experience, and that helps. I thought the offensive line played well. It was just a real nice win to have leading up into this game.”
To be sure, the records favor Skyline all-time. The Grizzlies own a 34-22 series advantage. They’ve outscored the Tigers by some 300 points over the course of the matchup, which dates back to 1966. They’re winning games by about seven points a pop.
That’s the thing about these kinds of games, though. Sometimes the numbers don’t matter. For Idaho Falls, the group trying to snap the worst kind of streak, the only number that might will be seven.
“I just remember thinking that was all I ever wanted,” Baker said. “It’s funny to look back on it now, but back then, it was all I wanted.”