High School Football

This Treasure Valley football team turned down a state playoff berth. Here’s why.

Nampa Christian qualified for the 2A high school football playoffs this fall. But instead of gearing up for a first-round matchup, the Trojans turned down a spot in the playoffs over the weekend, ending their season.

Nampa Christian (2-6) had only 16 remaining varsity players because of a slew of injuries, and Trojans’ coach Cassidy Kotte said three of those were questionable with lingering injuries.

Kotte and Nampa Christian Athletic Director Tina Pelkey said the Trojans would need to pull freshmen up to the varsity team for a first-round game at No. 3-ranked Grangeville (8-0), a move they balked at.

“Those are questionable decisions,” Kotte said. “Do I risk it? I have some great kids. It’s not so much mentally, but when I put a freshman out there, it’s just the physical size that is the question mark there.”

[Related: 5A to 1A state playoff brackets]

Pelkey added putting freshmen on the field could lead to more injuries or a poor experience that would sour those freshmen on returning to the team, harming the long-term health of the program.

“I don’t want to be shamed because we did not accept the bid, and that’s what been happening,” Pelkey said. “Our job is to make the best decision for the program, our students and our athletes. And we did all of the above.”

Malad (2-6) took Nampa Christian’s spot in the playoffs and will face Grangeville at 2 p.m. MT Saturday. Grangeville already beat Nampa Christian 54-7 in the Trojans’ season opener. But Pelkey said that result had nothing to do with the school’s decision.

Nampa Christian finished fifth out of six teams in the 2A Western Idaho Conference with a 1-4 league record, which would have automatically ended its season in previous years.

Idaho has 21 football teams in its 2A classification, and 16 make the playoffs to ensure equal representation among the state’s far-flung regions. Instead of awarding all 16 of those berths automatically based on conference finish, the state created three at-large spots this season to prevent winless and one-win teams from making the playoffs as they have in previous years. It also allows the state to seed its tournament instead of relying on predrawn brackets.

Those three at-large spots are awarded based on a computer ranking (RPI). Nampa Christian finished 15th in the RPI rankings thanks to a strong schedule, high enough to secure an at-large berth over Malad, Wendell (3-5), Salmon (1-6), Bear Lake (1-7) and Marsing (1-7).

Kotte woke up Saturday morning, saw his team’s ranking and started preparing for a trip to Grangeville. But after a phone call with Pelkey and Nampa Christian Superintendent Greg Wiles, they agreed the risks and costs outweighed the benefits.

The Trojans spent $2,500 on their August trip to Grangeville, when they stayed in dorms at a bible camp. If they couldn’t find another bible camp, hotel rooms would make the trip even more expensive.

“I am following the lead of my administration,” Kotte said. “Honestly, it was 50-50.”

As the school’s strength and conditioning teacher, Kotte said he’s met with his players, including 11 seniors, to go over the decision.

“We’re drawing a line at our last game. They came out and fought their hearts out,” Kotte said. “We declined to make trip and it had nothing to do with the team. It had to do with factors that were out of our hands.

“There are kids who were looking forward to another game, and others are looking forward to basketball season.”

Pelkey rejects the notion that Nampa Christian quit on its season.

“I’ve read the reports of us being called quitters,” she said. “We finished the regular season. We finished every JV game that was requested of us. A number of our league teams requested to only play two quarters for JV. We just opted out of the playoffs.”

Nampa Christian’s decision follows Payette forfeiting its entire conference schedule due to dwindling numbers. The Pirates had just eight available players for its 3A Snake River Valley opener on Sept. 28. After an 0-5 start, it canceled that game and later the rest of its season.