Renewing acquaintances

For the fifth straight week, there’s a compelling local tie in Boise State’s football opponent. For the fifth straight week, there’s a compelling local tie in Boise State’s football opponent. This week it’s Hawaii’s coordinators, Don Bailey on offense and Tom Mason on defense. Bailey, who left Idaho State to join the Rainbow Warriors this season, was wide receivers coach for the Broncos during the Pokey Allen era. Mason’s story has a true blue-and-orange ribbon. He was Allen’s defensive coordinator 20 years ago, and he was the one who had to take over as interim coach in 1996 when Pokey was forced to leave the team to undergo cancer treatment. It was a difficult, difficult time. Mason and the Broncos were out of sorts without Allen and struggled to a 2-10 record. Then after the season, Allen resigned and his staffers lost their jobs—and then Pokey passed away at the end of the year.

On Monday I asked a Boise State backup walk-on quarterback from 1996 what that season must have been like for Mason. Bryan Harsin said he didn’t realize at the time what a tough thing it was for Mason but said he grew to appreciate it after getting into coaching. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him,” said Harsin. “I’ve followed him since he’s left Boise. He’s got a great defensive mind, always has, and he’s always been good to me every time I’ve seen him, so I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him.” It was Mason who gave Harsin his Boise State scholarship (Allen had promised him one before having to take his leave of absence).

Mason harbors no ill will toward his one-time home. “I still have a lot of friends there,” Mason told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “The people of Boise were good to me. Football is a fickle business.” Mason said BSU’s success in the new century has not been surprising. Allen and Mason had transformed a 3-8 team in 1993 into a Division I-AA national championship game participant a year later. “I thought Boise was a young Lincoln, Nebraska, at the time, and it’s kind of proven out,” Mason said. Ironically, Mason had to do the interim thing again last year when June Jones abruptly resigned two games into the season at SMU. The Mustangs were winless—until a 27-20 win at UConn in the season finale.

Hawaii presents some interesting challenges Saturday night on the blue turf. Yes, the Rainbow Warriors were blanked at both Wisconsin and Ohio State, but the UH defense made the Buckeyes and Badgers work for everything they got. Hawaii was down just 14-0 at the half in each contest and had the chance to change momentum and make it a one-possession game early in the third quarter last Saturday at Wisconsin. The Warriors had a first-and-goal at the Badgers’ one-yard line after a 15-yard strike from Max Wittek to wide receiver Quinton Pedroza. Then, before they could line up, a UH offensive lineman was flagged for unsportsmanlike contact. The Warriors were pushed back to the 16, the threat fizzled, and that was as good as it got for the offense.

Boise State’s ability to move the chains Saturday night could hit Hawaii like a slow, steady drip—if the Broncos are able to do it. Last week they were better advancing the sticks on second down than on third, regardless of distance, as they relied on their controlled passing game. “We’ve got to get better on third downs, or eventually it’s going to come back to bite you,” acknowledged Harsin. The Broncos converted just three of 14 third downs at Virginia. For the season, they’re 86th in the country with a conversion rate of 37 percent.

The Dallas Cowboys have been running quarterback Matt Cassel through cram sessions with their offense, trying to get him ready for the backup spot behind Brandon Weeden for the Sunday Night Football matchup against New Orleans. That leaves former Boise State star Kellen Moore grinding away as he tries to stay in the running. Dallas coach Jason Garrett hasn’t determined whether Cassel will be activated this week, or if Moore will remain No. 2 for one more game. Things are leaning in Cassel’s favor, though. Little-known fact: Kellen is the fourth quarterback in Dallas history to wear No. 17. The first was “Dandy” Don Meredith, and Garrett was another.

Finally, a week that may see things start to even out for Idaho State. ISU faces another road game at Cal Poly, but the Mustangs are also 1-3 and are allowing 507 yards a game. It’s a chance for the Bengals’ offense to get off the dime—they’d especially like to get running back Xavier Finney unleashed. On the other hand, this could be a track meet. Cal Poly is averaging 330 yards a game on the ground, and that’s where Idaho State was gashed the most in the 52-0 and 80-8 annihilations the past two weeks. Boise State rolled up 344 rushing yards on the Bengals, while UNLV ran for 517.

As the dawn of preseason practice approaches for Boise State basketball tomorrow, there’s this footnote from this week’s announcement of the new walk-ons: Borah grad Cody Spjute becomes a second-generation Bronco hoopster. Cody is the son of Craig Spjute, who played two seasons at Boise State three decades ago after transferring from Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). The Big Sky had already adopted the three-point line before the NCAA did in 1986-87, and Craig Spjute was one of the first true three-point threats for the Broncos. He shot 41.3 percent from beyond the arc in his career.

The latest count shows 20 former Idaho Stampede players on NBA training camp rosters this week. Of particular note are Justin Holiday, Anthony Tolliver, Pierre Jackson and Jack Cooley. Holiday was a reserve for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors last season before signing as a free agent with the Atlanta Hawks. He appeared in 59 games and started four for the Warriors. In 2012-13, Holiday was the Stampede’s leading scorer, averaging 17.3 points per game. Tolliver was a member of the Stampede six seasons ago before signing with the Warriors. He registered a career-high 34 points that spring in a 116-107 victory at Minnesota on the night Golden State’s Don Nelson became the winningest coach in NBA history with his 1,333rd victory.

Pierre Jackson was the hottest player in the D-League with Idaho two seasons ago, scoring a D-League record 58 points in February, 2014. About two weeks later, Jackson was on his way to Turkey. He returned to the U.S. and was just about to suit up for Philadelphia in NBA summer league play when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Now he gets a fresh start with the Sixers. And Jack Cooley was injured on Opening Night with the Stampede last season, but he was a beast on the boards when he finally returned. The former Notre Dame star finished the season with the Utah Jazz, the team with which he goes into camp this week.

Like I said on Twitter yesterday, I was fairly flabbergasted when I saw the Best of Boise vote. Thanks to the Boise Weekly and all its readers. I mean, I haven’t been an actual “sports anchor” for a long, long time. Props to Jay Tust and Will Hall, my colleagues who eat, drink and sleep local sports seven days a week. And thank you for reading this column.

This Day In Sports…October 1, 2011:

Boise State avenges perhaps the most painful loss in its history by dominating Nevada, 30-10, before a sellout crowd on a 90-degree day on the blue turf. It was the earliest in the season a day game had ever been played at Bronco Stadium. BSU had fallen in overtime in Reno the previous November, dashing its Rose Bowl hopes. But the Bronco defense would stifle the Wolf Pack’s pistol offense this time, holding it to 182 yards. Doug Martin led the Boise State offense, rushing for 126 yards and a touchdown.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.