The Bishop Kelly High football team doesn’t rely on a lot of tricks.
The Knights don’t need much misdirection, deception or razzle-dazzle. They simply line up and run the ball down opponents’ throats, daring someone to stop them.
That formula has carried Bishop Kelly (8-2) back to the 4A state semifinals, where they take on Century (8-3) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Pocatello’s Holt Arena. And it works for the back-to-back defending state champs because of a dominant offensive line.
“They are the heart and soul of our run game,” coach Tim Brennan said, “which is the heart and soul of our football team.”
A physical rushing attack is nothing new for Bishop Kelly, a 4A powerhouse. But after graduating nearly all of its skill position players last year, the Knights knew they’d need to rely on their offensive line even more this fall.
That mission fits the guys in the trenches just fine.
“I think that pushed us to work harder, practice harder and play better,” said Caden Finkley, (6-foot-2, 250 pounds), a reigning first-team All-Idaho member. “I think it helped us a little bit to know we were going to be the main focus for the team.”
That focus allows the Knights to hand the ball off over and over again and continue to produce. Bishop Kelly calls a run on 75 percent of its plays, averaging 261.2 yards per game on the ground, best in the 4A SIC.
“When you are as dominant as they are, you’re going to win a lot of football games,” Century coach Travis Hobson said. “If you can get enough guys to load the box on them, you can give them fits and do different things to them.
“But if you’re going to try to line up and go toe-to-toe with any one of those five guys, you’re not going to win very many rounds. In an 18-round boxing match, they’re going to win 17 and a half of them.”
Hobson said Finkley, Bishop Kelly’s right tackle, and Harris Irwin, the 6-3, 255-pound right guard, stand out on film. But he added so does the rest of Bishop Kelly’s line.
“The kid is an absolute machine,” Hobson said of Finkley. “He’s got the most technical feet I’ve seen in years. … For high school football, he’s as good as it gets.
“And they’ve got five just like him. What do those guys have, a printing press over there?”
Center Daniel Cantrell (6-1, 210), left guard Mark Brinegar (6-0, 230) and left tackle Brad Stewart (6-1, 200) round out the line, while Marcos Galindo (5-11, 238) rotates in. Add in a pair of tight ends — Joe Sarabia (6-1, 210) and Mark Edin (6-4, 225) — in the double-tight, triple-I formation, and the Knights have little reason to take to the air.
If they get their hands on you, the play is over. You’re going to either be on your back or driven out of bounds.
Travis Hobson, Century coach
Brennan points to the communication of his line as the key to its success. And with Hobson claiming undersized Century will have to throw the book at the Knights with stunts, blitzes and shifts from all angles to hold their ground, that communication will be tested Thursday.
“Personally, I enjoy it,” Irwin said of the Knights’ reliance on the run. “I don’t like sitting back to wait for someone to come at me. I like going at somebody and pancaking them and whatnot.
“If no one can stop us, why stop running?”
Thursday: Bishop Kelly at Century
The Knights have a 5:30 p.m. kickoff at Pocatello’s Holt Arena, where they are 3-0 since 1999. Bishop Kelly has won six in a row by an average of 27.2 points after starting the season 2-2. A three-headed backfield of Luke Burley (812 yards, 11 TDs), Ivan Torrez (801 yards, 10 TDs) and Rex Irby (650 yards, 9 TDs) leads the rushing attack. Century has also won six in a row, including a 42-35 OT victory at Twin Falls last week. Senior QB Chris Hansen has 1,923 passing yards and 20 TDs, while Tristan Kayembe has run for 1,245 yards and 13 TDs.