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John Blanchette: After Kibbie Dome field goal debacle, even former Idaho kicker Austin Rehkow was left with a big sigh

UPDATED: Mon., March 1, 2021

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

So the Big Sky Conference has promised action in the wake of the Great Doink Debacle in Moscow on Saturday.

The vote here: station extra officials high atop the catwalk along the Kibbie Dome’s east end, like Secret Service snipers deployed for a presidential visit.

Or, you know, the guys already designated to call field goals good or no good could simply be in position, stop fiddling with their COVID masks and follow the flight of the ball.

Whatever’s easiest.

But if this is what it takes for the Sky to get a bit of sunshine in the national consciousness, so be it. The league can’t wait around forever hoping for a late point-spread reversal to make it on “Bad Beats.”

It makes for crackling good fun, too, since it can’t be definitively deduced that Seth Harrison’s kick figured in the outcome of Idaho’s 28-21 football victory over Eastern Washington, the first game in front of a paying audience in these parts in 15 months. Plus, there are the elements of the, uh, crime:

• Placekicking, which almost every civilian believes he can do as well as those assigned the task, and

• Officiating, the only thing civilians think they’d be better at than placekicking.

If you somehow missed the hubbub, EWU’s sophomore kicker was attempting a 24-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, the score tied at 21. His kick flew quickly between the uprights and banged off the lower edge of the Kibbie Dome’s giant scoreboard, just inches above the goalposts. This produced a carom not unlike what might occur if the ball had struck the right upright. Which is why, even as Harrison began accepting congratulations from his teammates, the Vandals were doing the jazz-hands thing to declare it no good – and the officials soon followed, much to Eastern’s outrage.

Now, the available video – taken from the far west end – didn’t show the contact point, the top of the posts and the scoreboard being out of the frame. What it did show, as Harrison strikes the ball, is the official out of position, forced to make a long lateral stride to move closer under the upright but seemingly preoccupied with his mask and late to look up before making his call.

Up in the stands among the 2,694 spectators, one Vandal fan could feel Harrison’s pain.

“I was trying to root for the Vandals,” said Austin Rehkow, “but it was a strange feeling because I know exactly how that kicker feels.”

Yes, it was déjà vu, more or less.

Rehkow, the former Vandal All-American from Spokane on a contract with the Indianapolis Colts, met up with his old long snapper, Alex Boatman, to take in Saturday’s game. And when Harrison’s kick was waved off, they looked at one another and said, “It’s 2015 all over again.”

Against Louisiana-Monroe that fall, Rehkow lined up at that end of the dome for a 40-yarder late in the third quarter, Idaho trying to extend a 20-13 lead.

“Normally, you don’t have to think about it going up on the scoreboard from there,” he said. “But sure enough, the kick goes over the upright and off the scoreboard and they signal no good. Honestly, when I hit it, I thought I’d missed it but then I see it go over and I think, ‘OK, I’m going to lobby for this for sure.’ ”

So did Idaho coach Paul Petrino.

“He even got them to look at it and you could see it on video, but they told us they can’t review a kick over the goalpost,” Rehkow said. “And yet they still charged us a timeout.”

At least the Vandals won that game. Eastern couldn’t console itself so easily Saturday. The Eagles whiffed on their next two possessions and watched Idaho score the winning touchdown with 54 seconds remaining. The debated field goal, practically, had no impact, but who knows how a three-point lead might have changed circumstances in real time?

On Sunday, the Big Sky conceded the blown call and said it “regrets the error” and again cited the rule about kicks above the uprights not being reviewable. Which in itself should be reviewed; if you’re going to bother with replay – and it is a bother – all scoring plays should be subject to it. Besides, this wasn’t about rules; it was about execution.

The league also belatedly acknowledged that officials need to be more mindful of the “unique conditions” of the Kibbie setup – the ground rules, if you will. Being more mindful of where to be and where to look – and when – will also help.

And the kickers? Well, they’ll keep trying to drive the football not just between the uprights, but down the middle – to avoid any question.

“As a kicker, you never want to miss,” Rehkow said, “especially when you didn’t miss, you know?”

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