High school football coaches, players and fans love this time of year — the season is filled with potential and everyone is undefeated. With the FBS college and NFL teams still a few days away from their season openers, the prep teams take center stage Friday night throughout the Treasure Valley. While 5A powers Capital, Eagle and Rocky Mountain begin the regular season on the road, state runner-up Mountain View looks to follow up last year’s historic finish, beginning with an opener at Nampa. Bishop Kelly, the two-time defending 4A state champion, kicks off its season Saturday at home against Bishop Monogue of Nevada.
Centennial at Boise (DLP)
These teams open the season against each other for the second year in a row. Boise won last year’s matchup 23-7, and the Braves return 15-of-22 starters. Centennial is coming off a rare winless season, but it looks forward to the return of senior quarterback Branden Anderson, who broke his collarbone on the fifth play of last season. Both teams were picked to finish fifth in their respective 5A Southern Idaho Conference pods in the Statesman’s preseason coaches’ poll.
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Caldwell at Vallivue
With the opening of a new high school in Nampa in the fall of 2016, Vallivue will be back in the 4A Southern Idaho Conference one year from now. The Falcons will get a taste of the competition with this nonconference matchup against rival Caldwell. The two schools kick off their second annual Spirit of Sport Competition, which emphasizes the sportsmanship component of athletics among fans, students, coaches and athletes. Caldwell holds the Spirit of Sport Cup, but it will be up for grabs again Friday as anonymous judges evaluate both schools during the game. The competition resumes during the basketball season this winter. Vallivue won last year’s game 55-15.
Capital at Madison
Capital grabbed five interceptions against Madison last season in a 35-21 win at Dona Larsen Park. The Eagles are starting over at the skill positions, but return three starters on the offensive line. Junior Drew Korf takes over for Capital at quarterback in place of Conner Poulson, who is now at Carroll College. Madison, a 2014 state quarterfinal qualifier, returns quarterback Konner Stoneberg and receivers Josh Crane and Zach Anderson, along with running back Connor Wills — all seniors.
Eagle at Idaho Falls
Eagle opened the 2014 season with back-to-back home games, but the Mustangs will gain valuable experience for a potential playoff run with a road trip to Idaho Falls. Eagle’s strength will start with its running game, where senior running back Bucky Schrader returns after rushing for 1,168 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago. Sophomore Devon Bridgewater assumes a starting position at quarterback for the Mustangs, who beat Idaho Falls 42-7 at Thunder Stadium last season. Idaho Falls is coming off a 1-8 season and looks to its offensive line — which returns all but one starter — to lead the way.
Kuna at Emmett
Emmett was the preseason favorite to win the 3A Snake River Valley regular-season title in the Statesman’s preseason coaches’ poll, and the Huskies have a strong nonconference schedule to help them prepare for an attempt at back-to-back postseason runs. Emmett has seven offensive starters back, including running back Mason Farnsworth, quarterback Saige Wilkerson and running back/receiver Yancy Hyde. Kuna counters with experience of its own and a new hurry-up offense, led by senior quarterback Ben Ruwe, who enters his third season as a starter. First-team All-Idaho receiver Jake Johnson (45 catches, 588 yards, 12 TDs) also returns.
Middleton at Fruitland
These teams face off in a season opener for the fourth year in a row. Fruitland won the first two meetings, but Middleton can even the series at two games apiece after winning last year’s game 34-14. Both teams favor the run and need to break in new quarterbacks. Fruitland returns its top three running backs — Kenton Smith, Garrett Tipton and Rocko Mackenzie — and Middleton matches the Grizzlies with returning backs Caleb Harrel, Jaden Coombs and Chance Turner.
Mountain Home at Canyon Ridge
It’s been a tumultuous year for Mountain Home, as new coach Jim Clark is the fourth head coach since August. The Tigers earned one win last season but are hoping to shake a four-season stretch that has seen them fall to 2-34. Canyon Ridge in Twin Falls grabbed a 4A postseason berth last year in the expanded 12-team playoff. The Riverhawks beat Mountain Home 49-33 in last year’s opener.
Mountain View at Nampa
Mountain View was the top finisher among 5A Southern Idaho Conference teams with its state runner-up placing last season, and the Mavericks were a unanimous pick to finish first in Pod B in the Statesman’s preseason coaches’ poll. Eleven starters are back for Mountain View — six on offense and five on defense. Nampa is among the few teams in the 5A SIC to return its starting quarterback (Kooper Wilcox) and running back (Pedro King) from a year ago, but defense may prove to be the deciding factor for the Bulldogs against the Mavericks. Mountain View beat Nampa 55-6 last season.
Rocky Mountain vs. Lake City (at Kibbie Dome)
Both of these teams lost in the state semifinals last year and meet in a season opener for the third year in a row. Lake City edged Rocky Mountain 39-37 on a last-second field goal a year ago, and the Grizzlies will be looking for redemption in Moscow. Quarterback Christian Blaser and running back Jake Roper lead Rocky Mountain’s offense for the second year in a row, and with seven starters back on defense, the Grizzlies were the unanimous pick to win the 5A SIC’s Pod A in the Statesman’s preseason coaches’ poll.
Parma at Marsing
Parma missed the playoffs last season and finished 2-7 overall, but second-year coach Jake Walgamott hopes the Panthers can regroup in 2015 behind returning running back Jimmy Dawson and quarterback Payton Pinz. Marsing is coming off an even tougher season as the Huskies went 0-8 after starting the season with just two players with varsity experience. The Huskies hope the 15-of-22 starters back can restore confidence in the program.
Orofino at McCall-Donnelly
Lee Leslie, who has previous head coaching stops at Kuna and Bishop Kelly, returns to Idaho after coaching one season at Kahuku High in Oahu, Hawaii. Leslie says participation numbers are up for the Vandals, who lost 15 straight games before winning their 2014 season finale. Orofino, which advanced to the 2A state semifinals last season, has won the past two times these teams met.
Melba at Wendell
Melba finished third in the 2A Western Idaho Conference last season, earning a postseason berth, and the program returns most of that team with 10 starters back on defense and nine on offense. Wendell, which opened the 2014 season with a 16-8 loss at Melba, is coming off a one-win season.
New Plymouth at Gooding
Each of these teams were playoff contenders in their respective classifications last season. New Plymouth won the 2A WIC regular-season title but came up a touchdown short in the first round of the playoffs against St. Maries. Gooding returns seven offensive starters from last year’s team, led by second-team All-Idaho quarterback Wyatt Williams and receivers Bryson Comstock and Chris Harbaugh.
Council at Horseshoe Bend
Council posted six shutouts last season, including a season-opening 40-0 victory over Horseshoe Bend. The Lumberjacks finished unbeaten in 1A Division II District Three and lost in the state semifinals to eventual champion Lighthouse Christian. Council has the potential to be just as good with senior QB Herry Ludwig and receiver Ryan Rosengrant back. Horseshoe Bend earned a runner-up finish in the 1A Division I regular-season standings, but it must replace standout quarterback Manny Sancho, last year’s conference offensive player of the year.
Lighthouse Christian at Idaho City
Idaho City has a tough draw to start the season as it welcomes the defending 1A Division II state champion, which returns a core group of impact players. Jason Roeber returns to the helm at Idaho City. He previously coached the Wildcats from 1999 to 2002. Lighthouse Christian beat Idaho City 58-20 in last year’s opener.
Notus at Cascade
Notus landed in a three-way tie for first with Idaho City and Horseshoe Bend in the Statesman’s 1A Division I District Three preseason coaches’ poll. The Pirates have the most returners among their league opponents with five back on offense and six on defense. Cascade finished 2-5 last season and one place shy of the playoffs. These teams last played in 2013, with Idaho City winning 52-6.
Glenns Ferry at Garden Valley
Garden Valley picked up this game at the last minute after Rimrock was forced to cancel its season opener with the Wolverines because of a lack of numbers. It will be the first meeting between the two teams in Garden Valley coach Jason Yearsley’s five seasons at the helm. Garden Valley returns just one starter.
Bishop Monogue (Nev.) at Bishop Kelly
Two-time defending state champion Bishop Kelly was the unanimous No. 1 pick in the preseason state media poll. The Knights have their work cut out for them if they want to become the first 5A or 4A team to three-peat in the Idaho High School Activities Association era, but they can lean on experienced offensive and defensive lines. BK topped Bishop Monogue 42-6 last year in Reno, Nev.
Meridian at Timberline (DLP)
Both of these teams finished third in their respective 5A SIC pods and then lost in the first round of the state playoffs in 2014. Meridian returns its entire offensive line, plus senior running back Talon Kreft. Timberline must replace first-team All-Idaho running back Tyus Zimmerman, who is now a walk-on at Boise State. But younger brother Terek Zimmerman is back as a three-year starter at receiver, and he’ll be the top target of versatile senior quarterback Justin Lavin.
Skyview vs. Riverton, Utah (at Holt Arena)
Skyview plays in the second of four games at Holt Arena in Pocatello pitting Idaho teams against out-of-state programs, which has been coined the Rocky Mountain Rumble. This is the second year in a row the Hawks have taken part in the event. Skyview lost 48-40 to Mojave High of Nevada, but then went on to earn its fifth consecutive state playoff berth.
Rachel Roberts: 377-6422; Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX