Idaho high school football state championship preview: Team overviews, players to see, score predictions

Here is an inside look at the six IHSAA state football championship games on the final full weekend of 2021 (all rankings are from end of regular season):

CLASS 5A

Photo by Loren Orr

NO. 5 HIGHLAND RAMS (10-2) vs. NO. 2 RIGBY TROJANS (10-1)

8:15 p.m. (MST) Friday at Holt Arena, Pocatello

Game nugget: First time these High Country Conference rivals have met for a state title

About the Rams: Longtime coach Giino Mariani put it best. “The road to the state championship will always go through Highland.” The Rams are playing for their fifth state title over the past nine years – and 20th since 1984. But if Highland wants to win the 12th state championship in program history, it will have to get past the Trojans. Rigby has won the past three meetings, including a 44-21 victory in mid-October – the worst loss in five years. But Highland has won four games in a row, including over reigning champion Rocky Mountain. K Ian Hershey, six field goals, including two game winners, has been on a tear, as has the rushing attack led by QB Jack Whitmer and RB Eli Parrish with 305 yards in a 29-27 semifinal win over Eagle.

About the Trojans: Rigby is in the title game for the third year in a row – the first time a 5A team has done that since Mountain View (2014-16). But just simply being there isn’t enough for the Trojans, who still talk about last year’s 17-14 loss to Rocky Mountain that ended a 20-game winning streak. Rigby might have the most prolific offense in the state, which was on full display last week in a 55-49 triple overtime semifinal win over Meridian. QB Tiger Adolpho was the hero of that thriller with six touchdowns, including the game-winning run. But the Weber State commit has done that all season. WR Taylor Freeman didn’t play, but Sam Krunz and TE Con Dansie stepped up in his absence. And don’t forget about RB Zheik Falevai.

SBLive Idaho pick: Rigby, 35-34.

CLASS 4A

Photo by Julian Jenkins

NO. 5 SANDPOINT BULLDOGS (8-2) vs. NO. 8 SKYLINE GRIZZLIES (8-4)

7 p.m. (PST) Friday at the Kibbie Dome, Moscow

Game nugget: Rematch of last year’s state semifinal, won by the Grizzlies (20-0).

About the Bulldogs: With a young talented group, this was the Bulldogs’ window, and they took it for their first appearance in a title game in six years. Sandpoint owns the longest winning streak in the 4A classification at seven. It came off the heels of an ugly 38-21 loss to 3A’s Homedale. But the Bulldogs have been an entirely new team since then. They’ve shown their dominance – four wins by double figures – and grittiness – beating Blackfoot on a 2-point conversion in overtime during last week’s semifinals. QB Parker Pettit’s dual threat capability has been showcased all season with 1,464 yards, 16 TDs through the air, and 775 and eight TDs on the ground. RB Gerrit Cox has combined for nearly 1,600 yards of total offense with 21 TDs.

About the Grizzlies: Well after all that, Skyline is in its fourth final in the last six years. After a 1-3 start – the worst in nine years – plummeted them out of the rankings entirely, the Grizzlies are now looking to repeat for the third time in program history and break their own classification record with an eighth state title. They’ve won seven out of their last eight games since then, six by double figures, and allowed just 15.7 points per game during that span. WR Kenyon Sadiq is making a case for being the most athletic player in the state of Idaho right now (take a look at the photo and video of him leapfrogging a poor Pocatello defender last week). He has 72 catches for 1,075 yards and 17 TDs. QB Lachlan Haacke (2,257 yards, 33 TDs) is also playing exceptionally well.

SBLive Idaho pick: Skyline, 38-31.

CLASS 3A

Photo by Julian Jenkins

NO. 4 SUGAR-SALEM DIGGERS (8-2) vs. NO. 3 WEISER WOLVERINES (11-1)

5:30 p.m. (MST) Friday at Holt Arena, Pocatello

Game nugget: Sugar-Salem beat Weiser 34-8 in last year’s quarterfinal round

About the Diggers: Sugar-Salem has run the 3A classification going on four years now. A fact that people seemed to have forgotten about following an 0-2 start – the worst in 17 years. But should we have really doubted the three-time reigning state champions, who have only lost to one 3A team over the last four years? The Diggers have won eight consecutive games since then. They’ve done so with defense and running the football. Sugar-Salem has given up just eight points per game, with no one scoring more than 16. That was seen last week when it held No. 1 Homedale to seven points – the fewest in five years. The Diggers are averaging almost 164 yards on the ground with RB Carson Harris (805 yards, 11 TDs) leading the way.  

About the Wolverines: After 16 long years, Weiser is back playing for a state championship. Even better, it has 10-time state champion coach Tom Harrison at the helm. The 10 state titles is an Idaho record. The Wolverines also have the most prolific offense in the classification at 41.5 points per game. QB Brett Spencer is the reason why. He is showing why he has a Division I offer from the University of Idaho. He’s completed 117-of-165 of his passes for 2,055 yards and 25 touchdowns. Spencer has also run for another 740 yards and 11 scores, while racking up 57 tackles and six interceptions as a defensive back too. It all could be the recipe in avenging last year’s loss and bringing home the first title in 24 years.

SBLive Idaho pick: Weiser, 21-17.

CLASS 2A

Photo courtesy of West Side athletics

NO. 1 WEST SIDE PIRATES (10-0) vs. NO. 3 FIRTH COUGARS (9-2)

9 p.m. (MST) Thursday at Holt Arena, Pocatello

Game nugget: Rematch of last year’s 2A championship game

About the Pirates: What’s there left to say about West Side? It’s been the standard of the 2A classification for three years running now without much challenge, especially as of late. All but one of the Pirates’ wins have come by double figures, which have allowed them to run their state-leading winning streak to 31 games. But that one game was against the Cougars, who really should have won in the opener. If not for a 33-yard TD run on a fourth-and-10 with five seconds remaining, they would. So West Side will need its potent running attack (289.5 yards per game), to be clicking. Cage Brokens, who had that 33-yard run, is the anchor of the unit with 1,002 yards and 20 TDs. WR Bryler Shurtliff, an Idaho State commit, is one to watch, too.

About the Cougars: Will the third time be the charm? Firth gets another crack at the king, and it best not miss. The Cougars were shut out 39-0 in last season’s title game as well. So all the motivation in beating West Side for the first time in five years is theirs for the taking. They would also become the first 2A team in 1,105 days to do so too. Firth has won nine of its last 10 games since then – seven of which have come by double figures. The Cougars have already gotten payback on the other team that handed them an L in last week’s 12-8 win over league rival North Fremont. But RB Sam Park (1,391 yards, 18 TDs) and QB Gage Vasquez (1,843 all-purpose yards, 28 TDs) will need to be even better if Firth wants its first title since 2006.

SBLive Idaho pick: West Side, 34-22.

CLASS 1A D1

May be an image of one or more people and people playing football
Photo courtesy of Raft River athletics

NO. 1 RAFT RIVER TROJANS (10-0) vs. NO. 3 OAKLEY HORNETS (10-1)

6:30 p.m. (MST) Thursday at Holt Arena, Pocatello

Game nugget: Rematch of last year’s 1A D1 final.

About the Trojans: Raft River is back in the title game for the second year in a row. The Trojans ended the year as the No. 1 team. They’re undefeated for the first time in five years and have a point differential against opponents of 36.4 with all but one win coming by double digits. But that one was against Oakley, which routed them 52-22 in last year’s state championship game.  Raft River did get some measure of revenge with a 22-16 in the regular season finale. This is the one that really matters, though. RB Thaine Loughmiller leads a rushing attack that is averaging 50 points per game. Tegan Whitaker and Kole Spencer have also been great in the backfield for the Trojans, who are looking for the first state title since 2016.

About the Hornets: Oakley is in the title game for the third time in the last four years and for the second consecutive season. While their offense gets most of the attention – more on that in a second – the defense has pitched four shutouts and is giving up only 12.2 points per game. But yes they have the top offense in the state (55.4 ppg) by scoring at least 52 points in all but one game. However, that one game was against Raft River, which held them to their lowest point total (16) in three years. It will be the fifth meeting in the last 15 months with the series being split at 2-2. QB Payton Beck has tossed 24 TDs, WR Dace Jones has half of those and RBs Bry Sevear and Ethan Toribaugh have combined for 1,336 yards and 20 TDs.

SBLive Idaho pick: Oakley, 32-26.

CLASS 1A DII

KENDRICK TIGERS (8-2) vs. NO. 1 CAREY PANTHERS (11-0)

2 p.m. (PST) Saturday at the Kibbie Dome, Moscow

Game nugget: Carey has defeated Kendrick in the state playoffs two out of the past three years by a combined 70 points.

About the Tigers: Kendrick finally did it. After three consecutive seasons of losing in the semifinals, the Tigers punched through to the title game for the first time in five years. Now they’ll look for the first state title in 20 years. Both of their losses were to higher classification teams who made state. Against teams in its own classification, Kendrick has beaten all but one by double digits, and that came back in the opening game of the season. Even after being shut out in a loss, the Tigers are still averaging 50 points per game, and a lot of that has to do with QB Ty Koepp, who as just a sophomore, has been good for at least five touchdowns through the air and on the ground per game. Kendrick has allowed just 50 points all year to 1A DII teams.

About the Panthers: The Panthers are the gold standard in this classification. They’ve lost just three games over the last four years and are in the final for the fifth year in a row. Carey is now looking for the eighth state title in program history and the third over the last five years. It has bullied nearly every team in its way this season with a point differential of more than 39 points and all but one win coming by double figures. And it just beat that team – Dietrich – by 34 points in last week’s semifinals. The Panthers are known for their offense (52.4 ppg), but have a defense to match (13.3). RB Connor Simpson is averaging 17 yards per carry and has more than 40 TDs on the year. DB Riley Morey is great on the other side of the ball with three picks last week.

SBLive Idaho pick: Carey, 42-30.

(Featured file photo by Julian Jenkins)

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