Doubters fuel Fruitland’s return to state title game

The Grizzlies take on Shelley in a rematch of last year’s state championship.

rroberts@idahostatesman.comNovember 23, 2013 

The Fruitland High football team had a hunch what most people were saying, or at least thinking, behind their backs all season.

Without longtime coach Bruce Schlaich and Boise State recruits Joe Martarano and Alec Dhaenens, there wasn’t much of a chance the Grizzlies would make it to the 3A state championship game for the eighth season in a row.

Players weren’t exactly sure what to expect, either.

For the first time in seven years, the Grizzlies completed the 3A Snake River Valley regular season without at least a share of the title and the conference’s No. 1 seed in the state playoffs.

“We had our struggles throughout the process, but we all kind of just morphed into one thing and put our differences aside,” senior fullback/linebacker Cody Bumgarner said.

“It wasn’t even the fact that we were starting a new era of football at Fruitland High School. It was more or less, ‘OK, this is our senior year, we’ve got to do something about it.’ ”

Many expected the Grizzlies to return home from their state playoff game against Buhl with their heads down, defeated.

Instead, Fruitland pounded out a 42-0 victory for the right to travel to Spirit Lake to take on Timberlake in the state quarterfinals.

For a second straight week, the Grizzlies did not relent, holding off Timberlake 35-21, setting up a semifinal rematch with SRV foe Homedale.

“With everybody saying that this year was going to be a rebuilding year with our new coach and losing some of our big players from last year, we just took that as we want to prove everybody wrong,” Fruitland senior running back/linebacker Tyler Shipp said. “We wanted to be better and just use that doubt as fuel to be a better team this year.”

Although it came down to the wire, Fruitland avenged its only loss of the season by beating Homedale 30-29 last Saturday at Homedale for a return trip to the title game.

First-year head coach Ryan Tracy, who was promoted from offensive coordinator after Schlaich retired, never doubted his senior class would find a way to rally.

“They’re just really tight together and they’ve done a great job in a leadership role,” Tracy said. “They’ve responded well to this coaching staff, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Fruitland (10-1) will play the role of underdog one last time Saturday when it faces Shelley (10-1) in the championship game at Pocatello’s Holt Arena. The Russets beat the Grizzlies 37-10 in last year’s championship game, along with title games in 2007 and 2009.

“We’ve had doubters all year and we had a lot of skeptical people going into the Homedale game. We just came together as a solid ball club and came out and did what we do best, and that’s go hard,” Bumgarner said.

“Shelley’s a good football team, but I’m proud to stand with my brothers, and I think that we can go out there and fight hard and do a good job.”

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

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