The Mountain View and Rocky Mountain high school football programs enter the 5A state championship this weekend with a litany of firsts.
Mountain View (11-0) posted its first undefeated regular season in school history, won its first road playoff game and will appear in back-to-back state finals for the first time.
Rocky Mountain (10-1) reached the state championship for the first time, slayed 10-time state champ Highland for the first time and has won nine in a row, another first.
A win at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Albertsons Stadium gives either program their first state championship. And it puts them on the short list of 5A powerhouses.
“To win a state championship, for us and for Rocky, definitely sets a new standard,” Mountain View senior linebacker Jared Gibson said.
For years, Capital, Eagle, Coeur d’Alene and Highland of Pocatello held a monopoly on 5A football in Idaho. A team would pop up every now and then, but those four programs played deep into November year after year.
Mountain View (opened in 2003) and Rocky Mountain (2008) flirted with top-tier status, reaching the state quarterfinals or an occasional semifinal. But Mountain View coach Judd Benedick admits his program didn’t have the consistency to keep up with the Capitals and Highlands.
“We’ve had lots of success, won a lot of games and made the playoffs,” Benedick said. “But if we were really honest with ourselves and looking at it from the outside in, we felt we had been really good. We’ve been in the top third of the conference, but we weren’t great yet.
“We felt like if we were to ever be considered that — great — you’ve got to take that next step. You have to win some of the big games that you haven’t in the past.”
The Mavericks took that step last year, reaching the state championship for the first time, but lost to Highland 56-21. Despite graduating a loaded senior class, the Mavericks proved they are no blip on the radar with a return trip to Albertsons Stadium and the classification’s top scoring offense (50.7 points per game) and scoring defense (11.8 points allowed per game).
“I think going to that state championship game gave our guys the confidence that we can play with the big boys, we can be considered one of the big boys,” Benedick said. “At the beginning of the year, maybe we didn’t have the talent and the experience, but we had that belief.”
Rocky Mountain had to clear that same hurdle. The Grizzlies have lost in the state semifinals three times, including the past two years to Highland. But a dynamic rushing attack, a stout defensive front and a dangerous secondary have lifted Rocky Mountain to that next level.
Rocky Mountain coach Scott Criner said it’s more difficult to take a program from good to great than it is to turn around a losing program, like he did at Timberline. And he credits the time he spent at Eagle as an assistant to Paul Peterson for teaching him the organizational skills needed to build a program from the Optimist Youth Football level all the way up to the varsity squad so it can succeed year in and year out.
“(Peterson has) been able to sustain success at Eagle, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of that,” Criner said. “We tried to bring that to what we’re doing at Rocky Mountain and put our own signature on it. And I think that’s where we’re at now.”
A win Saturday will set off a historic celebration for either Mountain View or Rocky Mountain. But a single title doesn’t make a powerhouse.
Both programs are building toward goals larger than a lone season — ones that don’t rely on a single senior class, but ones measured over years and possibly even decades.
“It’s going to do a lot for generations to come,’’ Rocky Mountain senior defensive end Joey Tuccinardi said of a potential state title.
“Guys are going to see Rocky in a different way, not as that team that gets there and doesn’t ever pull it off, but as that team that actually has the potential to go out there and win a state championship.”