If last year proved one thing in Intermountain League football it was, trite as it may sound, that anything can happen.
And it did. The major beneficiary was Bonners Ferry.
Picked to finish fifth in the six-team league, Bonners Ferry shocked the league by knocking off the favorites one by one.
The victories were storybook fodder. Two wins came in comeback style, another on a Hail Mary pass as time expired. Three of four league victories were by a combined four points.
Overall, the level of play was down. But competitiveness was at an alltime high. Three teams tied for second place, forcing a mini-playoff. And St. Maries, picked to finish just ahead of Bonners Ferry, survived the playoff with Lakeland and Kellogg.
Moscow, the preseason favorite to capture the league championship, slipped to fifth.
So it’s with trepidation that the 1997 projections are offered. The teams picked to finish one-two last year, Moscow and Lakeland, are considered the top challengers for the league crown this fall. The team with the best chance of leapfrogging the favorites is St. Maries.
And the other three teams should be respectable. Priest River, Kellogg and Bonners Ferry would be competitive with most of last year’s teams.
Priest River should be the most improved team in the league. And if one of the top three teams stub a toe, the Spartans could move from the basement to an upper-division finish.
Lakeland and Moscow return several key skill players. Lakeland returns the most players as the Hawks started as many as eight sophomores last year.
Moscow, Lakeland and St. Maries return their starting quarterback. All three are seniors.
St. Maries’ Skyler Willard and Lakeland’s Kurt Reese most likely will battle for top throwing honors. But Moscow’s Tony Rinaldi, one of the speediest athletes in the league, should lead the league in yardage.
Moscow coach Eric Bjorkman plans to use Rinaldi much like Lewiston utilized do-everything quarterback Brad Rice last year. Teams would be wise to contain Rinaldi and encourage him to pass rather than scramble.
“He’s looked outstanding in practice so far,” Bjorkman said of Rinaldi, a Kellogg native. “He has great quickness and a very strong arm. He’s just top-notch. If he has to run, the outcome might be worse than if he throws. We’ll give him a chance to do a lot of things.”
One thing Rinaldi will do often, though, is hand off to senior Russ Cosgrove, a hard-nosed runner who returns as the league’s top rusher.
Complementing Cosgrove will be a transfer, senior Jeremy Spencer who attended Logos, a private school in Moscow, last year.
Bjorkman isn’t overlooking Moscow or St. Maries
“Terry (Kiefer, Lakeland coach) and Curt (Carr, St. Maries coach) always do a great job,” Bjorkman said. “I expect will come down to us three. If our line comes along, we’ll play with anybody in the league.”
This could be Lakeland’s final run at the state playoffs for awhile. The district will open a second high school in Spirit Lake next year (Timberlake), and both schools are expected to be in the IML.
Kiefer said there has been no talk about this being Lakeland’s last year as the one high school in the district. “I guess it could be used as a rallying point, but honest to God, you’re the first person to bring it up,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer admitted he and his team are looking forward to the season.
“I think we can challenge at the top,” Kiefer said. “As far as things that we have in so far, we’re a little further ahead than we were at this stage last year.”
St. Maries’ Carr has delayed his resignation by a couple of years because he liked the potential of the 1997 team.
“We’ll throw some nasty skill people out there,” Carr said. “Getting to the playoffs last year was big for us.”
At least one very good team will see its season end too soon and home-field advantage may play a key role in deciding playoff berths.
Lakeland goes to St. Maries; St. Maries goes to Moscow; and Moscow goes to Lakeland.
Two years ago with the same schedule, St. Maries defeated Lakeland and Moscow, while Lakeland defeated Moscow.
What does it all mean? Pretty simple: Anything can happen.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: See related story under the headline: IML football