ISU opens renovated Holt Arena with loss; new feature honoring POW/MIA dedicated
POCATELLO — More than 5,000 fans were in attendance Saturday as the Idaho State Bengals hosted a football game for the first time since Holt Arena underwent major renovations.
The energy of those fans — many dressed for a planned “blackout” — created an electric atmosphere. But that energy dissipated as the Central Arkansas Bears (1-2) piled on for a 31-16 victory.
“You want a good crowd, like we had. You want the great energy and there was a buzz early,” Idaho State University head coach Charlie Ragle said postgame. “You’ve got to build on that.”
As the lights went out and the 5,125 fans in attendance rose to their feet using cell phone flashlights to illuminate the Holt, the Bengals (0-3) poured onto Caccia Field for the first time in 2022. And the energy of the crowd reached a near fever pitch as ISU, already up 3-0, was driving, poised to make it a two-score game. But an interception in the endzone stunted both the Bengal sideline and the crowd.
While praising the crowd, Ragle said it is on him and his team to nurture that enthusiasm. A win Saturday, then another in a winnable game next week could have put the Bengals in position to come back to Holt for a rivalry game with the University of Montana on Oct. 1 with a .500 record.
“The crowd is bigger, the buzz is better. It makes it a tougher place to play,” he said.
The crowd was noticeably more sparse at the final whistle than it was at kickoff. Still, the announced attendance was significantly larger than the average Holt crowd last season. The average 3,674 Holt attendance last year was the 28th fewest of 128 schools in the FCS.
ISU fans were obviously excited about the new seating, which was completed on the north side of the stadium over the winter. The same new seating is expected to be installed between the conclusion of this season and the start of next season.
Another new upgrade to the ISU athletics facilities this season — along with a new strength and conditioning facility and treatment rooms — is a state-of-the-art film room.
After Saturday’s loss, Ragle said the positive feedback for the team will be minimal when he gathers them in the new film room next week.
“There’s always positives,” he said. “We will certainly — we love the kids and we’re going to praise them, but that’s not good enough anymore. … We’ve got to expect to start winning. That’s how you build a program.”
Among the positives for the Bengals was Raider Hunter. The sophomore running back carried 16 times for 72 yards and caught three passes for another 52 yards. His spell, fellow sophomore Benjamin Omayebu, added five carries for 42 yards and both Bengal scores.
Ragle said he was pleased with junior quarterback Hunter Hays, who started in place of the injured Tyler Vander Waal.
The coaching staff has “all the faith in the world” that Hays is poised to be the team’s quarterback of the future and is able to lead the team to “a ton of victories.”
Up next, the Bengals will travel to Greeley, Colorado and take on the University of Northern Colorado Bears (0-2) next Saturday.
Missing Man Chair
During a halftime ceremony, ISU dedicated a Missing Man Chair on a raised platform near the Idaho Central Credit Union President’s Deck section.
The Missing Man Chair is a seat kept permanently open and cordoned off as a tribute to the thousands of service members designated as missing in action or prisoners of war. According to the university, this is the first such seat dedicated in any arena in the state of Idaho.
“Our University’s history is closely tied to military service and sacrifice,” ISU President Kevin Satterlee said in a recent news release. “From our beginnings, our students have fought and given their lives for our country. Many of our students have served our nation throughout history and their service continues today. This is a small way we can show our appreciation, and ensure we never forget the Idahoan service members still unaccounted for.”
Members of the POW*MIA Awareness Association were in attendance for the dedication and presented the POW/MIA Flag on the field during the ceremony.