The Bi-County has become the league nobody seems ready to win.
“It’s going to be a really competitive league, top to bottom,” said Reardan coach Dan Graham.
The Indians are favored by everyone except Graham.
“They’re throwing it our way, just getting everybody fired up to play us,” he said. “They know we’re not that good. Every skill kid graduated.”
Everyone knew that but figured an experienced offensive line was the foundation to build a championship.
“We thought it would until we played that jamboree Friday night,” Graham said, noting the Indians got pushed around.
So, who does that leave?
“One of the keys always in our league is who can stay healthy,” Liberty coach Rod Fletcher said. “Everyone has quality starters, but once (you get past that) it always drops off. Health is a big factor.”
Graham is pointing at Davenport, state champions two years ago and a playoff team last fall.
“Davenport probably has the most athletic people,” he said. “They didn’t have to rebuild, they just reload. They’re going to be faster than last year, they’re going to be quicker.”
Davenport returns seven starters, but the Gorillas have to rebuild their defense, starting with moving a pair of allleague players - defensive back Travis Telecky and lineman Nik Bergman - to linebacker.
“I don’t know how deep a lot of teams are,” Davenport coach Skip Pauls said. “Depth (is a big key). I know our schedule is not real easy. I don’t think we have an easy game at all. (Top level talent) is down a bit compared to what it has been.”
Don Beazizo is a realist.
“The Panorama is not as tough as the Bi-County,” the Republic coach said. “Still, it will be an interesting one.”
Last year four of the five teams making up the Panorama League were in the Northeast B-11 and the fifth, Cusick, played 8-man football.
Republic rolled through the NEB-11 all the way to the state semifinals. Springdale, Selkirk and Curlew were the bottom three teams in the NEB.
“If we’re going to get into the playoffs, we know we’re going to face tough teams,” Beazizo said.
To help prepare, the Tigers open with Bi-County favorite Reardan and perennial contender Ritzville. Then they face 1A Kettle Falls and have Tonasket later in the season.
“We what to see where we stand, see what will work, just so we’re ready,” Beazizo said. “That’s what we told the kids and they’re pretty excited.”
The Tigers graduated nine players who filled a majority of the starting spots and have a thin senior class, but they have the high expectations that come with success.
“It’s a foundation that was set over the last couple of years,” Beazizo said. “We have a small senior class, but a good sized junior class. They’re ready to build on that. Just being on the sidelines, they were there … and they got a lot of experience under their belts, too.”
They’re going to put it to good use right away.
Chasing the Irish
DeSales made it to the B-11 championship game last fall before falling and the Irish did it without the help of many seniors.
Leading the parade was quarterback Brian Lindgren, who threw for 49 touchdown, and receiver Joe Levens, who had more than 70 catches and 1,400 yards. Lindgren is just a junior and Levens is a senior.
That leaves area teams in the Southeast with a tough road to travel.
DeSales rolled through the regular season until falling to Waitsburg in the final game. The Irish recovered to make the championship game before falling to Willapa Valley 27-20.
The Bi-County and Panorama leagues are new, formed because the Northeast B-11 got to big.
Because of all the reshuffling in the state, particularly with teams moving up from B-8, the NEB-11 split along basketball lines.
Republic, the defending NEB-11 champion, is in the Panorma, but the next six teams are all in the Bi-County.
Odessa and Cusick moved up from 8-man, with Odessa in the Bi-County and Cusick in the Panorama.
Odessa beat Cusick in the 8-man semifinals last year.
“I think the kids got prepared (for 11-man),” Odessa coach Myron Kramer said. “We found out last January and I think the kids have prepared themselves for it. I think they’re looking forward to it. I think there’s a little apprehension, but I think that’s to be expected.
“We’re going to be competitive as long as the other team doesn’t ‘over-depth’ us… . My worry right now is if we can get enough kids ready (to substitute).”
Kramer has been at Odessa 28 years, 25 as the head football coach. Fred Vogel has an even longer resume at Cusick with 32 years, 31 as head coach.
“Coming from the B-8 ranks, I don’t have a real feel of our competition,” Vogel said.
But he’s looking forward to it.
“It will be exciting to see the development of this year’s team,” he said. “Cusick football is on the rise. We could be very good. The question is, how long it will take?”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo