FARGO, N.D. —
Think of where the Indiana State football program was in 2008 when coach Trent Miles arrived on the scene.
Then think of Indiana State’s 17-14 victory over top-ranked and defending Football Championship Subdivision national champion North Dakota State on Saturday.
Then tell me it’s not the biggest victory in Sycamores’ history. Because it is. Bar none. Take it to the bank. Write it in stone.
The Sycamores did something that seemed unlikely 24 hours ago and would have been unthinkable just four short years ago. When it comes to corner-turning moments for a program, this one will give the Sycamores whiplash.
“It’s great for our kids to win against a program like this. To say it’s the biggest win? I can’t say that. It’s the biggest win of the week,” said Miles, who prefers to be football coach, not historian.
Forget the coachspeak. Not only is it “the biggest win of the week,” it’s the biggest win of any week in ISU’s modern era of football.
It’s not the biggest win ever just because ISU won its first game in program history over a No. 1 team. Nor is it because ISU finally broke its duck against a FCS top five after 19 previous losses.
It was the way ISU went about its business to get the victory, which is to say, ISU didn’t anything out of the ordinary at all.
There was no gimmickry. No trick plays. No exotic scheme. There was no superhuman effort involved by any one player. No dumb luck. There were two turnovers returned by cornerback Johnny Towalid for touchdowns, but ISU made those plays.
ISU walked into the Fargodome, put its players on the field with a plan and the talent it has assembled, and effectively told North Dakota State to beat them straight up.
The Bison couldn’t do it. Think of the significance of that. ISU stood toe-to-toe with the best FCS team in the country and it was good enough.
That’s a massive step for the Sycamore program, though it didn’t surprise Miles.
“It’s great for our kids to get the reward. They never thought we couldn’t win. We go into every game thinking we can win. We don’t go in each week with something different. We know what we do is going to be good enough,” Miles said.
As every ISU fan is painfully aware, there’s been a lot of baby steps to go from the nation’s worst to beating the nation’s best. The 2009 victory over Western Illinois that broke the nation’s longest losing streak was an important step. Consecutive 6-5 seasons in 2010 and 2011 were two more steps.
“It’s a privilege to be at Indiana State. Back then [when ISU was losing], they probably wouldn’t have said that. But now? We went through the process and it’s a privilege to be here,” ISU cornerback Calvin Burnett said.
The triumph was a giant leap for Sycamore-kind because for all of the improvements that have been made under Miles, one thing the Sycamores hadn’t done in a regular-season game was to beat one of the MVFC’s power teams. Since Miles came to ISU, NDSU and Northern Iowa have been the league’s standard-bearers.
ISU had knocked on the door against both powerhouse programs, but now they’ve finally kicked it in. It changes the perception of the program. No longer is ISU the scrappy MVFC underdog trying to emerge from the abyss. ISU is an alpha dog in the best FCS conference in the country.
Miles has built a belief in his team, but until Saturday, there wasn’t that tangible reward — that big victory — to get everyone else to believe. Now that’s changed.
“We’re at the point now where it’s not about [lack of talented] players anymore, it’s not about facilities anymore. What it’s about is playing well on Saturdays. That’s where we’re at,” Miles said.
“You saw that today. If we do what we do, and play the best we can, it’s good enough now. It hasn’t always been the case, but now it is,” he added.
Is it ever. Beating the No. 1 team in FCS on the road is the corner ISU fans have been waiting to turn. Drink it in.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please follow him on Twitter @TribStarTodd.