Eagle High football coach Paul Peterson has been in this situation before.
This is not the first time the Mustangs are No. 1 in the state media poll with an unbeaten record and the 5A Southern Idaho Conference’s top-ranked defense (13 points allowed in the past four games).
Eagle (6-0, 2-0 5A SIC Pod B) continued its run Thursday night, beating Timberline (1-5, 0-2) 42-7 at Dona Larsen Park.
“Ultimately, we love where we’re at. We love how we’re playing. We’re very confident.” Peterson said. “... If we’re going to do something special here, it’s going to take another two months. Stay grounded, boys.”
Easier said than done.
I really believe that the internal leadership is going to determine how things go. It’s not coaching. It’s still a players game, and the players are going to dictate how this all turns out.
Paul Peterson, Eagle football coach, on where the Mustangs are headed after an undefeated start
On four occasions since Eagle’s most recent state championship in 2009 — 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 — the Mustangs have started the season 5-0 or better. Each time, they fell short of their ultimate goal.
Eagle’s 2011 and 2014 squads started 8-0 before losing to Highland in the state semifinals (2014) and Coeur d’Alene in the state championship (2011). And in 2008, the Mustangs rattled off 11 wins in a row, only to be turned away by future BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and Highland in the state title game at Holt Arena in Pocatello.
“It’s guarded optimism,” Peterson said, “with nothing but the understanding that we have real people and opponents in a fickle high school football game that can bite you.”
Experience has taught Peterson that it’s best to continue grinding with your head down and ego in check, a message he has shared with this year’s team on more than one occasion.
“I’m so old that I recite stories. But my father used to teach me when I was a kid, ‘Paul, if you’re good, you don’t have to tell people. They’ll know.’ ”
Through five games, Eagle’s defense — led by coordinator Rob Rathbun for the 11th straight year — allowed 9.0 points and 168 yards per game. In that span, the Mustangs had 11 sacks, seven interceptions, one defensive touchdown, one special teams TD and one safety.
For the first time in history, the Mustangs recorded back-to-back shutouts, blanking Nampa 49-0 on Sept. 9 and Meridian 31-0 on Sept. 16.
They have never had three shutouts in a single season.
“We haven’t really gone into our games saying that we’re going for the shutout, but as the game goes on and we can see that there’s an opportunity for it, as a collective group we all just kind of set our mind to it,” said senior cornerback Cameron Hamrick, who grabbed an interception against Timberline. “I think it shows that the whole team has a ton of fight.”
Before Thursday’s win against Timberline, the Mustangs ranked No. 3 in the 5A SIC offensively with 35.6 points and 367 yards per game. An experienced offensive line — which returned all five starters from last season — has paved the way for junior quarterback Devan Bridgewater to complete 53-of-78 passes for 755 yards and nine touchdowns without an interception while rushing for 278 yards and four more scores.
As quickly as those stats have added up, Peterson cautions it could all come crashing down. His players seem to have gotten the message.
“It’s good to be confident, but you can’t look past anyone,” Hamrick said. “Every game matters, and you have to really focus on the little details.”
EAGLE 42, TIMBERLINE 7
Eagle padded the most dominant defensive stretch in program history with another mercy-rule win.
The Mustangs came a few minutes short of a third shutout in four games when Timberline quarterback Layton Wagner scored from 5 yards out with a little more than two minutes left.
Senior quarterback Slayter Jeffries led the Mustangs with three rushing TDs, and senior running back Jonas Loyens added two scores in the second quarter for a 28-0 halftime lead.