Since Shelley won its first 3A state football championship in 2003, the Russets are 6-for-6 in title game appearances.
Four of those victories were against Fruitland, and the two teams meet in yet another 3A championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Middleton High.
The Grizzlies are fed up with second-place trophies.
“I’m really excited to be back, but I’m sick of the tradition of losing the state championship,” Fruitland tight end/defensive end Tyler Eiguren said. “I’m ready to win one.”
Fruitland has advanced to the title game 10 times in the past 11 seasons, missing out last year for the first time since 2005. The Grizzlies won it all in 2010 and 2006.
“They want to accept that challenge to beat Shelley, and that’s something that a Fruitland team has never done before,” Fruitland coach Ryan Tracy said. “It gives them extra motivation to be focused this week, and we’re just telling them, ‘You’ve got to play the best game of the year.’
“We’re in the championship game, and that’s what we expect out of them, and I think these kids are going to step up to the challenge.”
As long as the Grizzlies (8-2) have been title contenders, they have relied on the wing-T offense, challenging opponents to contain them on the ground. That approach won’t change against the top-ranked and unbeaten Russets (11-0).
“Everybody knows what we’re going to do every play. It’s obvious, when we run tight pitch 100 times, you know what the next play is going to be,” Eiguren said. “It’s just our line being better than the other guys. That’s what it comes down to.”
Fruitland averages 409.9 yards per game, with 309.2 of those coming on the ground. In a semifinal win over Gooding last week, senior running back Phoenix Ruffin had 243 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
While Ruffin is the workhorse, senior Caleb Ziegler, juniors Canaan Bourcy, Ethan Villalobos and Jordan Eggers and sophomore quarterback Cole Eiguren provide the Grizzlies with a variety of offensive weapons.
“That’s the neat thing about the wing-T. If they’re trying to take one back away, then we’re trying to get the ball to the next back, and he’s going to be open,” Tracy said. “If one guy is getting all the carries, the other ones are doing all the blocking. Those guys understand that, and they’re not selfish by any means.
“They know that their time will come, and they’re willing to do all that extra blocking for the other guy.”
Fruitland vs. Shelley title games
▪ 2013: Shelley 17, Fruitland 14
▪ 2012: Shelley 37, Fruitland 10
▪ 2009: Shelley 25, Fruitland 14
▪ 2007: Shelley 19, Fruitland 13