Highland defeats Thunder Ridge 38-12 to kick off high school football in Idaho amid wildfires, global pandemic

Highland High School (5A) defeated Thunder Ridge (5A) 38-12 to kick off the Idaho high school football season in Pocatello’s Iron Horse Stadium on Friday night, amid concerns about air quality due to California wildfires and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has caused many state associations to postpone high school football to the spring.

Highland was paced by quarterback Jack Whitmer’s four touchdown passes, in a game that was organized after schools in the Boise area pushed back the start of the season.

The game was one of two scheduled to be played Friday night across the state of Idaho to kick off a season that has seen changes in scheduling, health precautions and logistics to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Marsh Valley was set to host Layton Christian Academy Friday night in Arimo, Idaho, but the game was postponed due to poor air quality, as reported by KIDK News, to Saturday at 5 p.m. in Layton, Utah.

Air quality levels were consistently recorded in its Air Quality Index as “unhealthy” by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality as smoke from wildfires in California made its way east into Idaho.

Attendance did not appear to be limited. Students were instructed to social distance, and did so using pool noodles.

The scene during the national anthem.

“We’re the very first ones, so it’s going to be different how we handle the sidelines,” Highland head coach Gino Mariani told The Idaho State Journal Friday night. “We don’t know how much we’ll have to be on kids. We’ll talk to them about keeping social distance, having their masks on when they’re out. There’s a lot more that we have to prepare for and talk to kids about. … (But) it feels great. We want to play, and we’re going to get the first game in.”

Other COVID-19-related game stipulations that are taking place in parts of the state include ticket sales done exclusively online, limiting attendance to a fraction of capacity and mask mandates. Most teams begin the regular season next week.

Watch a replay of the game streamed by IdahoSports.com.

(Feature photo by Highland Athletics)

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