The Idaho 5A football playoffs are in the midst of their 38th year. And in the previous 37 versions, the semifinals always represented a mix of the Gem State.
Capital (9-1) hosts Rocky Mountain (9-2) and Mountain View (9-2) travels to Eagle (10-0) on Friday night, setting up the first all-Treasure Valley final four since the Idaho High School Activities Association 5A state playoffs started in 1979.
“It just seems like everybody in the area, wherever you go, they’re talking about it, whether I run into people at church, or the grocery story or at school,” Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said. “And they’re not just talking about Mountain View to me. They’re like, ‘Man, how cool is it that all four schools are from this area.’ ”
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The quartet also guarantees Albertsons Stadium will host the 5A championship game Nov. 19, and that the title will remain in the Treasure Valley for consecutive years for the first time since 1981, when Borah and Boise rotated winning the first three championships.
Here’s a look at how we got here, and how it never occurred before.
A NEW NORMAL, OR A CYCLE?
High school sports always ebb and flow with athletes coming in and out of schools.
The 5A Southern Idaho Conference sits atop that ebb this year. But the league doesn’t have to look too far back to see the other side.
Rocky Mountain’s state title last season interrupted a five-year championship drought. And despite the league’s size, the SIC has claimed only 13-of-32 berths in the 5A state finals since 2000.
“Right now, we’re going through a great cycle of athletes and players,” Rocky Mountain coach Scott Criner said. “Eagle is going through that, too. In the past, it was Highland and Coeur d’Alene going through that.”
0 Number of Treasure Valley teams to repeat as 5A state champions. Rocky Mountain can become the first.
Capital coach Todd Simis maintains the SIC was undervalued all season. Capital didn’t enter the state media poll’s top five until the ninth week of the season, when it owned a 7-1 record. That’s partly credited to the league’s recent history, but also due to the future Division I quarterbacks and prolific offenses at Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston.
“They’ve earned that respect,” Simis said. “But I think you’ve got to look at the whole team. And the four teams that are still alive are well-rounded football teams. We all have a good defense. We all have good offenses that are different.”
Criner cautions against using this year to predict a new reign for the SIC. The league could drop to the bottom of the cycle just as quickly as it rose to the top.
“If you look at freshmen, Nampa High School had a great freshman team,” Criner said. “Who knows? They might be that representative three years from now just because they’ve got a great group of kids.”
10 Of the last 16 5A state titles won by a team outside the Treasure Valley
INCREASING THE ODDS
No theory on the rise of the 5A SIC can dismiss the booming growth of the Treasure Valley. The league is home to 12 of the 21 teams that compete in 5A, giving it the best odds for one team — or several — to mount a playoff run.
This year’s semifinals are an example of that growth. As recently as 1999, only Borah, Capital, Centennial and Meridian played in Idaho’s largest classification, then known as A-1 Division I.
Rocky Mountain (opened in 2008) and Mountain View (2003) hadn’t even hit the planning stages in 1999. And Eagle, which opened in 1995, played 4A.
Benedick compares the Treasure Valley’s growth to Salt Lake City, where teams have started breaking into the national rankings. As the population rises, Benedick said, so do the number of standout players, as well as the number of players and programs forced to raise their level of play to stay competitive.
“I’m not saying we’re there,” Benedick said. “But all I’m saying is that since I’ve started coaching, there has been a bunch of growth in this area, which means an influx of families. I’ve got to think that that helps raise the level of football as you get more people to turn out and numbers grow.”
1991 Last time Capital won a state title. Eagle, Mountain View or Rocky Mountain hadn’t opened yet.
The growth has created a deeper and more diverse league, where opponents search for any wrinkle or scheme to set them apart. Simis points out a team could go from playing Rocky Mountain’s grinding rushing attack one week and Boise’s all-out aerial assault the next.
Don’t expect the league to stop expanding anytime soon. Skyview is set to join in 2018. And Caldwell, Middleton, Vallivue and Ridgevue could all move up to 5A by 2020 or 2022.
Not that any of the four coaches can afford to look that far ahead with gameplans to finalize and opponents to scout.
Simis said all four coaches have texted each other this week, sharing thoughts on how special the weekend is. But all remain focused on chasing a title.
“I’ve been trying to just relax and enjoy it,” Simis said. “But it’s hard.”