High School Football

Scoring is skyrocketing in high school football. But not against this team. What’s the secret?

Pop quiz: 69-29. 46-39. 56-27.

Are those football or basketball scores?

Believe it or not, those came on the gridiron the past two weeks as defense has all but disappeared from the 5A and 4A Southern Idaho Conferences.

The Treasure Valley’s 19 large-school programs have surrendered an average of 30 points per game to start the season, 4.2 points ahead of last year’s pace after two weeks and 6.1 points more than 2016.

That’s a touchdown more per game for each team, or 12.2 additional points on the scoreboard every night.

It’s no mystery why as spread offenses have flooded the SIC. Every team except Bishop Kelly runs some flavor of the set to weaponize open space, increase the number of snaps and race to test all of the lights on the scoreboard.

But one program cuts against the grain.

Rocky Mountain, the 5A SIC’s top defense a year ago, remains one of the few programs snuffing out all those explosive attacks. The Grizzlies held their first two opponents this fall (Mountain View and Boise) to six points each, limiting both to 200 or fewer yards on the way to a 2-0 start and the state’s No. 2 ranking.

Rocky Mountain runs its own spread attack, but its identity remains centered on defense.

“We’ve always tried to be challenging to the offense,” Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig said. “I think a lot of defensive coaches want to get lined up and let guys play hard and play fast. We do that as well, but we figure we’ll try to make it hard for the offense to figure out where we’re coming from.”

The Boise performance came as no surprise. The Braves could only score once Rocky sat all of its defensive starters after halftime. But holding the high-flying Mavericks to their lowest point total in 45 games raised eyebrows.

Forget the bend-but-don’t-break mindset many teams use against the spread. Rocky Mountain attacks, deploying its crew of small, fast and athletic defenders to bring pressure from all over the field and force quick decisions. It dictates how the game will be played, then rallies to the ball and pounces on any mistakes.

“They are a pressure team, and so they give you a lot of looks, all kinds of movement. They are bringing guys from all over,” Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said after the loss. “And their kids do a really good job executing it. They are fast and athletic on defense, and their athleticism was better than our bulk tonight.”

Culig knew this season’s defense wouldn’t tip the scales like it had in years past. And as spread offenses utilize small and quick athletes attacking the perimeter, the Grizzlies needed an evolutionary response. So Culig and his coaching staff met with Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos this spring and summer to find different ways to create pressure.

The result is a match coverage defense, which colleges across the country have adopted to blend man and zone coverages, confuse quarterbacks and take back control. The Grizzlies’ 3-3-5 formation allows them to send pressure from all angles without divulging it before the snap. And it puts dynamic senior outside linebackers Joe Strickland (6-3, 190) and Garrett Beck (6-3, 200) closer to the ball where they can wreak havoc.

“I don’t think we’ve seen an offense that’s built old school with power and coming right at you,” Culig said. “... We’ve had to adjust. You’ve got to be able to tackle in space. If you tackle in space well, you’re going to be pretty good.”

The Grizzlies have done that thus far. But they’ll get another test Friday.

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Capital’s Sam Sessou-Djokoto tries to break free from a tackle Friday at Mountain View. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Rocky Mountain at Capital, 7 p.m.

Capital brings a no-huddle spread into the matchup, and the Eagles rely on second-year starting quarterback Ryan Hibbs to direct the attack. But Capital coach Todd Simis knows his team has its hands full with Rocky Mountain’s defense.

“You have to be prepared because they’re going to come at you. They are going to come at you from every angle,” Simis said. “Sometimes they’ll overload you (on one side) and they leave a guy uncovered, or he’s covered at the second level. They’re just telling you you’re not going to have time to figure it out.”

Simis said Capital will need to keep Hibbs upright and take advantage of its opportunities when it catches Rocky Mountain out of position on a blitz. That means finding an open receiver and breaking the line of scrimmage in the running game to find a hole vacated by a blitzer.

That’s easier said than done though.

Rocky Mountain 20, Capital 14

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Eagle quarterback Ben Ford searches for running room against the Borah defense Thursday at Dona Larsen Park. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

Skyview at Eagle, 7 p.m.

I spent the summer trying to convince fans that the move from 4A to 5A isn’t that big of a deal and Skyview will make the 5A playoffs this fall.

The Hawks feature one of the league’s most dangerous quarterbacks in Wyatt Storer. And he’s found a new receiver to rely on based on Wade Carpenter’s 12-catch, 255-yard and three-TD performance against Centennial last week.

But Skyview isn’t on Eagle’s level yet, especially on the road.

Eagle 35, Skyview 28

Bishop Kelly at Columbia, 7 p.m.

Columbia (2-0) lit up the scoreboard the first two weeks, scoring 61.5 points per game — the most of any Idaho 11-man team.

Senior running back Allamar Alexander led the onslaught, running for 568 yards and 12 TDs. The Wildcats racked up those points though against Emmett and Caldwell, two teams expected to finish at the bottom of the 4A SIC.

Alexander will still do his damage. But expect a wakeup call with perennial power and league favorite Bishop Kelly (2-0) coming to town.

Bishop Kelly 35, Columbia 22

Gooding at Fruitland, 7 p.m.

The state’s biggest matchup comes at the 3A ranks as No. 2 Gooding (2-0) travels to face No. 1 Fruitland (1-0), the two-time defending state champ with a 20-game winning streak.

Fruitland showcased a rare aerial assault in Week 1 as senior QB Cole Eiguren threw for 312 yards and two TDs. Fruitland coach Ryan Tracy said the Grizzlies will turn to the air if needed and that Eiguren has proven himself a weapon. But Fruitland still will run the ball 100 straight times with its vaunted Wing-T if it can.

Gooding poses its own offensive threat with an explosive spread offense led by junior QB Shane Jennings and senior wide receiver Cayden Loveland, both reigning first-team All-Idaho selections.

“I wouldn’t say we have to do a really good job, I would say we have to do an outstanding job of not letting their quarterback scramble and make plays,” Tracy said. “As soon as he scrambles, that’s longer for our secondary to cover guys. We’ve got to contain him, collapse the pocket and hope for the best.”

Gooding has yet to crack Fruitland, losing three games to the Grizzlies the past two years. But add in another first-team All-Idaho pick returning for the Senators (defensive lineman Jake McGinnis), and it’s time for a changing of the guard in 3A.

Gooding 29, Fruitland 27

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Week 3 high school football picks