These two Idaho schools were rivals, but they chose to combine sports teams
The Southern Idaho Conference has spoiled high school football fans in the Treasure Valley.
For the past 14 years, the league has placed at least one team in the 5A or 4A state championship. Until now.
With the area’s largest schools shut out of the title games, let’s turn our attention to the small towns carrying the Valley’s banner.
3A: Fruitland vs. Snake River, noon Saturday at Holt Arena
Fruitland coach Ryan Tracy knows his team has been in this situation before.
The No. 1-ranked Grizzlies (11-0), who have played in 11 of the past 12 state championship games, entered the finals previously undefeated five times. But only once (2010 vs. Snake River) have they finished off the perfect season.
So Tracy installed a new motto this season — chase perfection.
“That’s what those guys want to do, chase that perfection,” Tracy said. “It’s not just our record or being a state champ. It’s every single play, we want to be perfect on those plays.”
Fruitland has been nearly perfect all season, racking up a 3A-leading 42.9 points per game behind another dominant rushing attack. The Grizzlies have run for 381.2 yards per game this fall in their vaunted Wing-T. No running back has topped 1,000 yards, but five have run for more than 450 yards, led by Jordan Eggers (838 yards, 11 TDs).
That embarrassment of riches has kept the backfield and its two-way players healthy all season. The Grizzlies will need all the bodies they can spare to slow down unranked Snake River (7-3), which has won seven straight after an 0-3 start.
Led by Jeb Harrison, the son of former Snake River coach Tom Harrison, the Panthers run many of the Wing-T principles that led the elder Harrison to 10 state titles. But Jeb Harrison also has added his own twist — a shotgun spread formation.
Snake River has spoiled a perfect Fruitland season before in 2011. But the Grizzlies are on another level this year.
Fruitland 34, Snake River 22
1A D-II: Tri-Valley vs. Carey, 2 p.m. Saturday at Middleton
Speed dominates the 8-man game, where 5-foot-6, 140-pound scat backs wreak havoc and put up video game numbers with all the extra space on the field.
But No. 3 Tri-Valley (10-0) has a different formula. The Titans reached their first championship since Midvale and Cambridge merged all their sports programs under the Tri-Valley banner in 2005 with a dominating, physical brand of I-formation football.
The Titans can run with anyone. But getting off the bus, they don’t look like any 8-man team I’ve seen in 11 years in Idaho with nine players listed over 190 pounds.
“It helps us at the line,” Tri-Valley senior receiver/defensive back Chip Mitchell said. “We can blow them off the ball. We’ve got some speed on our team, too. So we kind of have both areas.”
Senior running back Teddy Ertel has led the way, running for 1,489 yards and 28 TDs this season. But he’s just one of many weapons for the Titans, who ranked second in 1A Division II in points (53.2) and points allowed (12.4).
No. 1-ranked Carey (11-0) holds the top spot in both scoring (53.8) and scoring defense (10.5). With senior quarterback Houston Hennefer leading a potent passing attack (160.7 passing yards per game) and a bounty of speedy weapons around him, the Panthers have all the makings of a traditional 8-man power.
But they are running into a team with the size, strength and talent to change the 8-man formula.
Tri-Valley 30, Carey 28
5A: Coeur d’Alene vs. Highland, 5:30 p.m. Friday at Holt Arena
The bonds between these two programs extend so deep that Gunnar Amos, the son of Coeur d’Alene coach Shawn Amos, lives with Highland coach Gino Mariani.
Gunnar Amos transferred to Idaho State as a quarterback in August, and when he couldn’t find anywhere to live, Mariani offered a room. When Shawn and his wife Kelly head to Pocatello for Idaho State games, they also often stay with Mariani.
“About a month ago we talked about, ‘Let’s meet in the Dome in November,’ ” Mariani told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “And here we are.”
The championship matchup pits Idaho’s two Army All-Americans — Coeur d’Alene quarterback Colson Yankoff and Highland defensive tackle Tommy Togiai — against each other.
Both have more than lived up to the hype. Yankoff heads 5A’s top offense (44.9 ppg) while Togiai leads 5A’s top defense (11.4 ppg). And both have made it look easy all season.
Yankoff, a Washington commit, has accounted for 3,164 yards of offense and 32 TDs this fall after missing the first two games with a knee injury. That’s 351 yards and 3.5 TDs per game.
Togiai, meanwhile, has terrorized offensive coordinators all season. Double and triple teams haven’t slowed the 6-3, 300-pound senior with offers from Ohio State, Washington and USC. He racked up three sacks and suplexed a pair of Rocky Mountain running backs last week alone.
Matchups like these often come down to role players and one or two big plays. With a deeper cast around him, including future Boise State tight end Cole Ramseyer, Coeur d’Alene takes the advantage in a series where the road team is 4-1 since 2012.
Coeur d’Alene 21, Highland 18
4A: Skyline vs. Minico, 8:15 p.m. Friday at Holt Arena
No. 5 Minico (9-2) shocked everyone by reaching the state championship game for the first time in program history, upsetting No. 1 and undefeated Skyview 29-28 last week.
I had to eat crow on that one after screaming for years the Great Basin Conference couldn’t hold a candle to the SIC or High Country Conference. (Although the league’s 3-24 playoff record the past nine years entering last week did back me up.)
But I’m picking against the Spartans again.
No. 2 and defending state champ Skyline (9-2) returns to the finals after an 0-2 start. Since then, the Grizzlies have established a powerful, zone-read option behind three returning All-Idaho offensive linemen and the quarterback-running back duo of Dylan Bialas and Kyler Morgan.
Skyline 21, Minico 15
2A: Firth vs. Declo, 2:45 p.m. Saturday at Holt Arena
Declo running back Keegan Duncan is the runaway favorite for 2A All-Idaho Player of the Year.
The 6-3, 205-pound junior exploded for 446 rushing yards and five TDs in No. 1-ranked Declo’s (12-0) semifinal win, bringing him up to 2,689 yards on the ground this season.
“There isn’t a player like him in 2A,” Firth coach Keith Drake told the Idaho State Journal. “He is special. We haven’t seen anybody like him.”
No. 5 Firth (8-3) fields a stout run defense, holding opponents to 78 rushing yards per game through the playoffs. But Duncan and the Hornets can’t be contained.
Declo 35, Firth 20
1A Division I: Prairie vs. Genesee, 8 p.m. MT Friday at Kibbie Dome
The closest game No. 1 Genesee (10-0) has played all season was last week’s 22-point win over Challis, when quarterback Kolby Moser left with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
His status for the championship game remains unclear. But he did walk off the field, and the Bulldogs routed No. 3 Prairie (10-1) 36-6 back in Week 2.
Genesee 42, Prairie 30
Championship high school football picks
Each week, Michael Lycklama of the Idaho Statesman will pick the winner of every high school football game in the Treasure Valley. Computer picks are made by using the Elo rankings popularized by FiveThirtyEight.com. The odds Elo gives each team of winning is also listed.
Coeur d’Alene vs. Highland
Minico vs. Skyline
Fruitland vs. Snake River (Sat.)
Firth vs. Declo (Sat.)
Prairie vs. Genesee
Tri-Valley vs. Carey (Sat.)