The more things change, the more they stay the same in the 5A state playoffs.
Rocky Mountain, Mountain View, Highland and Coeur d’Alene are all back in the state semifinals, the same four teams that played in last year’s final four, albeit with different matchups. In fact, those four perennial powerhouses have claimed 19 of the 24 spots in the semifinals in the past six years.
But 4A remains another story. A classification that defied expectations all season doesn’t have a single team from last year’s final four in the semifinals. And two of them, Nampa and Vallivue, finished the regular season unranked in the final state media poll.
So who’s moving on to the state championship? I’ll handicap the Treasure Valley teams still alive below.
[Related: 5A to 1A football playoff brackets]
Coeur d’Alene at Rocky Mountain, 7 p.m. Friday
The predrawn brackets for the 5A playoffs reward the classification’s No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams — and its only undefeated squads — with a semifinal matchup. But that’s a topic for another day.
No. 2 Coeur d’Alene (9-0) escaped an upset bid from Borah last week, forcing five turnovers and rallying with two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes for a 37-34 win at home. That late comeback showcased the Vikings’ firepower, proving they are never out of games as long as senior quarterback Kale Edwards is under center.
The dual quarterback/safety with an offer from Montana has racked up 2,861 total yards and 38 total TDs with just four interceptions this season.
“Their quarterback is huge,” Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig said. “He reminds me of an old school Johnny Unitas.”
But Edwards and the Vikings will face the toughest defense they’ve seen this season. No. 1 Rocky Mountain (10-0) leads the state surrendering just 12.1 points and 72 rushing yards per game. The Grizzlies bring pressure from all over the field, and no quarterback has withstood the onslaught of exotic blitzes, leading to a state-leading 31 turnovers.
At 6-5, 210 pounds, Edwards has the strength to shake off a would-be tackler or two and catch Rocky Mountain in a blitz. But Coeur d’Alene will need more than a couple to keep up with the Grizzlies.
Coeur d’Alene struggled to handle Borah’s elite athletes, and Rocky Mountain has the horses to run with anyone in the state. Running back Nick Romano (1,696 rush yards, 27 TDs) receives top billing, but Rocky Mountain can take to the air just as easily. Junior quarterback Colby Jackson threw for three TDs last week when Madison stacked the line of scrimmage.
“When they are going to pack the box with people and bodies, we have the ability to throw the ball,” Culig said. “It was working, so we went that direction.”
Coeur d’Alene also has to make the long bus trip to the Treasure Valley this week. The Vikings are 9-1 on their home field in the playoffs the past nine seasons but just 4-4 outside of North Idaho.
Rocky Mountain 35, Coeur d’Alene 28
Mountain View at Highland, 8:15 p.m. Friday
No. 4-ranked Mountain View (8-2) heads to Pocatello with a formidable task.
No. 3 Highland (9-1) is the defending state champ. The Rams return their starting quarterback, Kobe Tracy, and top playmaker, Landon Demuzio, from last year’s title team. And Highland remains next to unbeatable in Holt Arena, where they are 40-5 the past six years, including 8-1 in the playoffs.
The lone team to venture into that dragon’s lair and win in the playoffs? Mountain View in 2016.
The Mavericks pack up the state’s top scoring offense (43.3 ppg) for the road trip, one that has found another gear the second half of the season. Mountain View has scored 50.3 points per game during its six-game winning streak after making a couple tweaks to its offensive line.
Senior quarterback Noah Bryant has flown under the radar this season with all the weapons around him. He hasn’t piled up the yards (2,000) other gunslingers have, but his 26-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio remains unparalleled.
That efficiency will come in handy against a stout Highland defense. While the Rams graduated Ohio State signee Tommy Togiai, they still rank second in the state (16.3 ppg).
“(Bryant) is a two-year starter, so he’s seen pretty much every defense and coverage,” Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said. “He’s real comfortable in our offense and relaxed in big games, so he can make the right reads and decisions. He’s a really good decision maker.”
The Mavericks have a path to pull the upset in Pocatello. But after Highland throttled Eagle 41-14 last week, the Rams have established themselves as deserved favorites against any SIC team not named Rocky Mountain.
Highland 31, Mountain View 28
Vallivue at Bishop Kelly, 7 p.m. Friday
Let’s hope the rematch is half as exciting as the first matchup.
Bishop Kelly beat Vallivue 46-39 on Aug. 31 when fullback Thomas Rizzo scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1.8 seconds left. But that game was 10 weeks ago, meaning both the Knights and Falcons look a lot different than they did in Week 2.
“It could be a 10-7 game,” Bishop Kelly coach Tim Brennan joked.
Bishop Kelly has morphed into a defensive juggernaut since then. The Knights have posted four shutouts and own the state’s second-stingiest defense at 14.8 points per game. Take away the 39 points Vallivue scored, and Bishop Kelly would have the state’s top unit.
Linebacker Luke McLaughlin leads the crew with 9.6 tackles per game and 10 sacks. But the Knights rely on a bounty of tough, hard-nosed, throwback players to live up to their defensive tradition.
“BK is very disciplined in what they do, very well coached and confident,” Vallivue coach Layne Coffin said. “You’re not going to be able to just go in there and play football. They’ve been to the state championship three of the last four years for a reason. So you’re going to have to go in there and fight for everything you get from those guys.”
Meanwhile, Vallivue’s offense has grown into an explosive unit only seen in video games. The Falcons lead the 4A classification with 46.5 points and 501 yards per game, including 374 on the ground. Junior quarterback Lan Larison (3,458 total yards, 40 TDs) headlines the group with his ability to run through, around and past defenders, and he’s nearly as dangerous through the air.
He’s not alone as running back Carson Childs (1,194 rushing yards, 14 TDs) and jack-of-all-trades Jayden Moran (1,280 total yards, 22 TDs) keep opponents honest. And the Falcons’ defense has scored three TDs in the past three weeks.
But make no mistake, any game plan to slow Vallivue starts with Larison.
“He’s the leader of their offense. There’s no dispute of that,” Brennan said. “He’s as good of a football player that I’ve coached against in a long time. He’s going to make plays. We’ve just got to try to limit the number of plays he makes.”
Settle in for a shootout. Vallivue has made a historic run and could reach the finals for the first time since 2000. But expect Bishop Kelly’s experience deep in the playoffs to carry the day.
Bishop Kelly 42, Vallivue 38
Nampa at Hillcrest, 7 p.m. Friday
Unranked Nampa (9-2) and No. 1 Hillcrest (11-1) enter this matchup with a lot of similarities. Both are running for more than 300 yards per game. Both feature dual-quarterback systems. And both are anything but traditional powers.
Hillcrest’s beefy line and dominant running game overpowered Middleton last week to run for 465 yards. Any chance Nampa has of winning its first state title since 1984 starts with slowing that freight train.
“Looking at the situation, we are glad we had the opportunity to prepare for a back like (Columbia’s Allamar Alexander) last week,” Nampa coach Dan Holtry said. “It kind of set us up for this week. The kids feel pretty confident. We just have to be stout against the run and stop any big plays.”
Nampa features its own bevy of explosive weapons. Take one away, and another steps up to fill the void as the Bulldogs are putting up 39.3 points per game.
Hillcrest fields the 4A’s top defense at 12.2 points per game and is holding opponents to 62 yards on the ground. But Holtry said the Bulldogs won’t abandon a ground game crucial to their historic turnaround.
“We’re going to open things up and get our athletes in space and make some things happen,” he said.
But Nampa hasn’t left the Treasure Valley since 2012, when it played in Twin Falls. That will come back to haunt the Bulldogs on Friday.
Hillcrest 27, Nampa 21
Homedale at Timberlake, 2 p.m. MT Saturday
This is the lock of the week as our computer model gives No. 1 Homedale (10-0) the best odds of moving on at 84 percent. The 3A Trojans have blown out each and every opponent they’ve faced this season. A 20-point win over Gooding last week is the closest game they’ve played so far.
Unranked Timberlake (7-3) stands as a surprise semifinal team and the 3A Intermountain League’s first final four team since 2012. Homedale must take a long bus trip to Spirit Lake north of Coeur d’Alene, but it won’t find much trouble on the way to its first state championship game since 1999, when it played at the 2A level.
Homedale 42, Timberlake 14
Wilder vs. Valley at Holt Arena, 1:30 p.m. Saturday
The 1A Division I Western Idaho Conference has long struggled in the playoffs. But unranked Wilder (10-1) continued to prove the doubters wrong last week, upsetting Lapwai 44-36 when Garrett Sedlacek scored the game-winning TD with 52 seconds left.
Another upset would really send shock waves through the state. But No. 2-ranked Valley has appeared destined for the finals all season, routing Clearwater Valley 56-0 to open the playoffs.
Valley 46, Wilder 32
Salmon River vs. Lighthouse Christian at Holt Arena, 4 p.m. Saturday
No. 3 Lighthouse Christian (10-1) enters with a rare commodity for an 8-man team, a defense holding opponents to 10.8 points per game.
But no one has stopped No. 5 Salmon River (7-3) since Canyon Harper returned from an injury. The two-time, first-team All-Idaho running back will shine on the turf at Holt Arena.
Salmon River 42, Lighthouse Christian 36
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