The Idaho soccer team will play their first playoff game in 27 years pacific Saturday at 4 p.m. against Southeastern Louisiana at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond, La.
Though it’s been nearly three decades since the Vandals have played meaningful football (excluding three bowl games in the Football Bowl Subdivision), this game against the Lions feels like a step back in time.
Granted, the way Idaho learned its playoff destiny this season involved more showmanship. In 1995, the vandals had to wait until the next day’s newspaper.
Former Idaho quarterback Eric Hisaw received a phone call from a Spokesman Review reporter after the Vandals’ 33-13 win over Boise State to close out the 1995 regular season, who informed Hisaw that the Vandals were winning the division’s playoffs I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision).
“They said if we got to the playoffs we’d be Wizards,” Hisaw said. “So we had some shirts made with that quote on it. Then he asked me what I thought about playing McNeese State in the first round.
Although the method of determining if a team made the postseason has evolved, there are many similarities between this Idaho team and the one that made the 1995 postseason that cannot be denied.
The 2022 edition of the Little Brown Stein rivalry was one to remember.
Idaho’s 30-23 win over then-No. 2 Montana gave the Vandals their first win of the series since 1999 and showed they weren’t just another mediocre team.
The 1995 game was eerily similar. Idaho hit then-No. 2 Montana 55-43, the end of a four-year slide. It was also the last time the two attended the same conference until Idaho returned to Big Sky in 2018.
“That was maybe the surprise of the year,” Hisaw said. “With all due respect, the Big Sky really was us and Montana, and they just had our number back then. It’s one of those games you never forget.”
The victories against Montana proved monumental, but each version was completely opposite. One was a defensive exchange, the other a track meeting.
The two quarterbacks let it fly 27 years ago and combined for more than 800 passing yards.
“I just remember chasing for their quarterback all day,” said former Idaho defenseman Ryan Phillips. “I had three sacks in that game and it was just back and forth, it was a crazy game.”
When Hisaw got the call that the Vandals were going into the postseason, he was also told it would be a long road trip to face the Cowboys, which is based in Lake Charles, La.
“It was really hot,” Hisaw said. “I also just remembered there were roaches everywhere, so just keep an eye out for roaches, folks.”
McNeese State is 171 miles west of Hammond, where the Vandals will play the Lions this weekend.
When the Vandals took on the Cowboys 27 years ago, they left the day before. Ironically, this appears to be the same travel plan that first-year coach Jason Eck and the current football team will be taking.
In 1995, Chris Tormey was in his freshman year as coach, his run lasting through 1999. He was 33-23 in his four-year stint in Moscow and led the Vandals to their first bowl appearance in 1998, a 42-35 win over them South Mississippi in the Humanitarian Bowl.
But before that, Tormey led Idaho to its fourth straight playoff appearance and ninth in 10 years
Tormey took over from John L. Smith, who directed the program from 1989 to 1994. Tormey retained several assistants from Smith’s staff to maintain some continuity.
“I don’t think you really know what you’re getting into until you first walk into the building,” Tormey said. “I aspired to be a head coach and returning to my alma mater has been a great blessing. We got off to a rocky start but we were able to get things back on track.”
Coming into a program with traditional success and starting slow are just a few of the differences between Eck and Tormey.
Tormey and the Vandals started 2-3 before the game against Montana. After that, Idaho won three of its last four games to end the year.
Eck’s job was to turn around a program that has been dormant for most of the past two decades. He’s quite successful with that. The Vandals slowly picked up steam and then stormed onto the stage with victory in Missoula.
It’s a feat Tormey is blown away by.
“To see them hold up with Washington State and Indiana and prove it wasn’t a fluke is a huge kick-start for a program,” Tormey said. “I always say you have to win the battles and your players will follow you. They succeeded and he had a great buy-in with a tremendous relationship with his players. You can tell that there is a lot of mutual respect there.”