The schedule makers didn’t do Mountain View and Rocky Mountain any favors.
Forget a Week 1 cupcake. The top two picks in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference’s preseason coaches’ poll open the season against each other at 7 p.m. Friday at Rocky Mountain.
But the two rivals play each other every year. What’s new this fall is a trophy worthy of two of the top programs in the state.
The inaugural “Battle of the Mountains” will award a 50-pound trophy with a 3-foot-long fireman’s ax on top to the winner. One side of the ax features the name of the rivalry in Mountain View’s blue and green colors along with a Mavericks logo. The opposite has a Rocky Mountain logo and text in the Grizzlies’ purple and black.
“I wanted the ax to be representative for when you talk about battling for the mountains,” said John Kierce, who led the creation of the trophy. “In my mind, firefighters really battle the mountains. They do it in the literal sense.”
Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig said the idea sprung from a column I wrote last fall, decrying the lack of big-game rivalries in the Treasure Valley. Eastern Idaho fields games like the Emotion Bowl, Civil War and Black and Blue Bowl, which all pack their stadiums and involve the entire community. No matter the ups and downs of a program, a win in those rivalry games can save any season.
But nothing similar exists in the Treasure Valley, thanks to its exploding growth. Eight schools in the Boise metro area played 5A or 4A football in 1994. Today, 19 do. It’s impossible to establish generational rivalries when a new school opens every couple years.
Eagle and Rocky Mountain started the Herb Criner Bowl and trophy two years ago. That game is on its way to establishing a tradition, and the Grizzlies added to it with another rivalry game and a traveling trophy.
The Battle of the Mountains trophy features a fireman’s ax and halligan bar mounted atop a 38-inch-long, 4-inch-deep walnut base. A new firefighter receives an ax and halligan bar — their “irons” — when they start working. A halligan bar includes and claw, a blade and a tapered pick, allowing a firefighter to use it to dig into, pry open or smash anything it needs to. Kierce described it as “medieval-looking.”
The ax stands atop the halligan bar and is removable, allowing players to hoist it up in celebration after the game.
“The game is already big, and it will remain big,” said Culig, whose team holds a 6-5 advantage in the all-time series with Mountain View. “This kind of formalizes it with a bit with memorabilia and a trophy. … It kind of allows us a moment to take it in. Someone gets a trophy and gets to walk away with it. Hopefully we continue to do it with good sportsmanship.”
Boise Fire Battalion Chief John Peugh donated two used irons for the trophy, and Monte Stark from Big Woods Cabinets of Meridian donated the walnut base. Meridian’s Millit Knives also spent four hours, free of charge, grinding and polishing the ax to create a chrome finish.
Kierce said he started with an idea for a miner’s pickax, but that didn’t provide much room for the school’s logos and branding. He switched to a firefighter’s ax in honor of the men and women battling Idaho’s mountain wildfires.
“My first thought was about a presentation ax, something brass and engraved,” said Kierce, the business manager for the Treasure Valley’s Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union No. 296. “But I wanted it to be blue collar, a fist-in-the-dirt kind of thing. You don’t get awarded this. You earned it. It’s worth a fight.”
Mountain View at Rocky Mountain, 7 p.m.
Because the 5A SIC now has 10 teams, no one gets a nonconference game this season. And two of the top teams in the state — Mountain View was ranked No. 1 in the preseason state media poll; Rocky Mountain No. 3 — kick off the season in grand fashion.
Fans can only hope for a matchup halfway as exciting as last year’s, when Mountain View backup quarterback Carson Wells scrambled for a 4-yard TD with 11 seconds left to upset then-No. 1 Rocky Mountain 20-19.
Both teams return loads of offensive talent. The Mavericks have six starters back from the SIC’s top offense, and Rocky Mountain returns seven offensive starters.
“I told (the team) the other day this is a championship bout, so be ready to go 15 rounds,” Culig said. “Last season was an absolute war. It was a battle all the way down to the end. No matter what happens, I think it’ll be the same thing this year.”
Rocky Mountain entered the week still trying to settle its quarterback battle. Senior Trae Page brings an elusive and explosive element to the position, while junior Colby Jackson has the bigger arm and better grasp of the offense, Culig said. Both will play Friday.
But Mountain View coach Judd Benedick knows slowing Rocky Mountain starts with containing reigning first-team all-conference running back Nick Romano.
“You got to get him before he gets started,” Benedick said. “He’s got great speed and he’s powerful. If he gets a head of steam going, he’s a strong kid and that makes it tough.”
Mountain View, of course, features its own bevy of high-powered athletes. Senior quarterback Noah Bryant returns for another year under center, and he’ll have tight end/H-back/linebacker/whatever-else-you-need Joey Elwell to rely on. Elwell has offers from 10 FCS schools entering the season.
Mistakes often rule Week 1. And in a battle between two teams of the caliber, any mistake can turn the game.
Rocky Mountain holds the edge on defense with five returning starters to Mountain View’s two. That could prove to be the difference.
But no matter who takes home the Battle of the Mountains trophy, eight more weeks remain in the season. The SIC race still has a long way to go.
Rocky Mountain 30, Mountain View 28
Borah at Skyview, 7 p.m.
Get ready for a shootout with the bounty of offensive talent on both sides of the ball.
Borah brings back the explosive duo of quarterback Jake Standlee and wide receiver Ellis Magnuson, who both are entering their third year as starters. But Skyview counters with its own three-year starters in quarterback Wyatt Storer and running back/linebacker Tyler Crowe.
That only begins to scratch the surface though. Standlee has a whole cast of receivers returning, namely Austin Bolt and Chase Nett, that can break big plays. Skyview, meanwhile, returns four of five starters along its offensive line. It can grind out yards when it needs to against a young Lions defensive front.
“Nowadays in high school football, you’re expecting to give up 14 points with how good these offenses are and how the game is,” Borah coach Jason Burton said. “They’ve got experience coming back and they are definitely going to make plays. We just hope to make more than they do.”
Fourteen points is a given. This game could come down to whoever has the ball last. But take Borah in nail-bitter.
Borah 35, Skyview 31
Kuna at Middleton, 7 p.m.
This is another game with potential for fireworks and loaded with postseason implications. Kuna, picked third in the 4A SIC coaches’ poll, won last year’s contest 46-41 on its way to averaging 32.7 points per game. Middleton, picked second, averaged 34.3 points a game.
Both need to replace loads of talent on offense. Middleton must find a new quarterback to lead its air raid offense and a go-to receiver. Junior Dallas Hagler and sophomore Cash Cowdrey battled it out under center in camp. We’ll see who won and how that offense looks in the post-Darin Post era.
Meanwhile, Kuna must replace all the production running back Caden Cobb, the 5A SIC’s co-offensive player of the year, brought. Expect Brian McDaniel and Dalton Bell to share the load with quarterback Matthew Austin taking a larger role in the offense.
That leaves plenty of questions on both sidelines. But until Kuna can prove it has shored up a defense that surrendered 41.6 points a game, it’s hard to trust the Kavemen.
Middleton 34, Kuna 27
Bishop Kelly at Nampa, 7 p.m.
Some may scoff at the selection of this game. Nampa struggled mightily the past four years in 5A, hasn’t posted a winning season since 2011 and trails the all-time series against BK 14-5.
But Nampa is one of the most intriguing teams entering the season. The Bulldogs bring back nine starters on both sides of the ball and turned heads this summer when they took second at the Potato Bowl 7-on-7 tournament.
Passing leagues get their well-deserved criticisms. But in the previous eight years, only one team has reached the finals of the Potato Bowl and failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Bishop Kelly remains the heavy favorite with a murder’s row of a defensive line, the most seniors (27) in coach Tim Brennan’s 23 seasons and talent at every position. But don’t be surprised if Nampa gives the Knights a game.
Bishop Kelly 27, Nampa 20
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