WSU Cougars

Cougars-Broncos rivalry has been one-sided so far

Ah, but for the days when the game between Boise State and Washington State had some animosity, if not much competitiveness.

The Broncos and Cougars met four times in five years between 1997-2001. Perhaps the almost-annual series could have become a classic northwest rivalry, especially since the Cougars were good and the Broncos were getting there.

But WSU won every game, three of them decisively. Before BSU was a BCS-buster, the Broncos were just another guaranteed win, like so many other former junior colleges.

The games themselves were mostly boring. But the players sure livened things up.

That’s mostly thanks to BSU kicker and Mead High graduate Todd Belcastro, who bristled publicly that the local school did not give him a scholarship. Belcastro guaranteed a victory in the teams’ first matchup, even though the Broncos were 39-point underdogs heading into that 1997 matchup against the No. 15 team in the country. That was the largest point spread in WSU history at the time.

Get a kick out of what the kicker said:

“I hate the Cougars, I really do,” Belcastro told the Idaho Statesman. “I’m going to wear my University of Washington hat on the sideline and after we win, I’m going to sign a football, put the score on it and hand it to Mike Price.”

Price, for his part, took the threat in stride, suggesting that he did not remember Belcastro and perhaps the Broncos player had him confused with WSU kicking coach Aaron Price. Instead, Belcastro (and his team) went scoreless, and had to watch WSU counterpart Rian Lindell -- the kid Price did recruit -- boot a 57-yarder.

The rest of the Cougars waited until after the 58-0 rout to get their verbal licks in.

“We heard about it during the week and we just laughed -- all the locker-room talk was what’s going on with Oregon next week,” said defensive lineman Leon Bender, adding indifference to insult. “I only sweated because I had my pads on.”

The Cougars are liable to get at least a little tired during this week’s game in Boise. A lot has changed since the last time these two teams faced off.

For starters, BSU has not lost a nonconference game at home since WSU’s 2001 win in Boise. That game came at the start of the Cougars’ heyday, and right before the Broncos run of dominance that saw them emerge as the preeminent mid-major in the country (the Gonzaga of football, if you will).

The Broncos are double-digit favorites in this decade-and-a-half later rematch. How long has it been since the Broncos lost to a nonconference opponent at home? Well, in that game current WSU radio man Jason Gesser was playing quarterback for the Cougars, and he was running on turf that was green, not blue.

Of course, the Broncos were a little better in their second back-to-back games against the Cougars. The BSU teams that played the Cougars in 1997 and 1998 finished a combined 10-17, and were outscored by the Cougars 91-21 in those two games.

The 2000 and 2001 teams compiled an 18-6 overall record despite the two losses to the Cougs, and nearly toppled the Cougars in Pullman for the millennial game, losing 42-35.

In the years since, BSU has had two undefeated seasons, won the Fiesta Bowl three times and even (briefly) joined the Big East. The Broncos have put together a program that can more than compete with Pac-12 teams like WSU on even footing.

And BSU is still the program adding fuel to whatever proximity-based rivalry may exist between the fan bases, recruiting the nephew of WSU great Mark Rypien right out of Spokane and turning him into an all-conference quarterback as a freshman last season.

On Saturday we’ll find out if after all these years and all those wins, the Broncos can finally get some bragging rights.