No matter if it played at the 5A or 4A level, the Nampa High football team has long held a spot at the bottom of the Southern Idaho Conference.
But not these Bulldogs.
Nampa routed crosstown rival Columbia 40-19 Friday in the 4A state quarterfinals, extending its historic turnaround and lifting the Bulldogs into the state semifinals for the first time since 2007.
“It’s huge for the school. (We were) 2-16 in the last two years, and we’re 9-2 right now and in the state semis,” Nampa senior quarterback Braden Minor told reporters. “It’s incredible. It’s a great journey.
“But we always knew we were one year away, and it finally hit.”
Nampa (9-2) travels to No. 1-ranked Hillcrest (10-1) at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at Idaho Falls’ Thunder Stadium for a spot in the state championship.
[Related: 5A to 1A state playoff scores, brackets]
Nampa raced out to a 21-0 lead in the first half after Donavon Estrada returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown. The Bulldogs continued to rely on their ball-hawking defense to create havoc, forcing four turnovers Friday to bring their 4A-leading total to 35 this season.
“That’s just part of our M.O. and what we’ve hung our hat on,” Nampa coach Dan Holtry said. “We practice it every week and we have a circuit that we do. It kind of gets monotonous for the boys, but it shows on Friday nights.”
Nampa also showcased its offensive balance in a two-quarterback system. The Bulldogs racked up 361 yards of offense, but no one accounted for more than 100 yards passing, rushing or receiving until Minor broke a 95-yard touchdown run with 1:37 left.
Minor led Nampa with 119 rushing yards and two TDs. Estrada threw for 40 yards, caught three passes for 28 yards, ran for 33 more and a TD, and he nabbed two interceptions on defense after a starter went down with an injury.
Brian Carrillo ran for 79 yards and a TD on 12 carries, and Alex Bernal ran for 37 yards and a score.
“You’ve got to be on your toes and expect anything and everything,” Minor said. “Because we can do a lot of things and mix up a lot of things with our offense.”
Few expected much of Nampa to start the season. The Bulldogs tied with Columbia for fifth in a preseason 4A SIC coaches’ poll thanks to their decade-long struggles. Nampa went 9-27 during its four-year stint at the 5A level, but it also floundered in the 4A SIC, going 4-14 the two years before moving to 5A.
While every team starts the season with dreams of playing for a state title, Estrada admitted he set his eyes on just snapping the program’s eight-year playoff drought. Three months later, the Bulldogs have surpassed that goal and then some.
A win next week would put Nampa in the state finals for the first time since 2007 and give it a shot at its first championship since 1984.
“I might get too far ahead of myself talking about the state game, but I believe we can make it there,” Estrada said. “But we’ve got to take care of business.”
The win also ended a storybook season for Columbia (6-5). The Wildcats won their first playoff game, qualified for the playoffs for the second time and finished with a winning record for the third time in the program’s 13-year history.
Senior running back Allamar Alexander turned in another workhorse performance, running 38 times for 192 yards and two TDs. He finishes the season with 2,114 rushing yards and 33 TDs.
“That’s what I told the seniors: They left (the program) in better shape than they found it,” first-year Columbia coach Jon Helmandollar said. “I think we can use it as a building block moving forward.”
NAMPA 40, COLUMBIA 19
NAM — Alex Bernal 4 run (Zack Feierfeil kick), 6:30
NAM — Donnie Estrada 8 run (Feierfeil kick), 10:28
NAM — Estrada 75 interception return (Feierfeil kick), 4:38
COL — Austin Collett 2 run (Bryant Daniels kick), 0:05
NAM — Brian Carrillo 4 run (kick blocked), 8:43
COL — Allamar Alexander 5 run (run failed), 9:33
COL — Alexander 1 run (kick failed), 6:36
NAM — Braden Minor 7 run (kick blocked), 3:14
NAM — Minor 95 run (Feierfeil kick), 1:37
RUSHING — Columbia: Austin Collett 2-4, Allamar Alexander 38-192. Nampa: Donavon Estrada 6-33, Braden Minor 10-119, Alex Bernal 13-37, Brian Carrillo 12-79.
PASSING — Columbia: Collett 10-21-3 85. Nampa: Estrada 2-20 40; Minor 6-8-0 53.
RECEIVING — Columbia: Jayden Parker 2-17, Dalles Christensen 1-23, Jeremiah Brent 4-38, Michael Cox 3-7. Nampa: Estrada 3-28, Cade Smith 2-16, Jace Mann 1-9, Carrillo 1-14, Ryan Zheng 1-26.