NE 1B/North story lines
In their third straight semifinal appearance, the Cusick Panthers reached the state finals, uncharacteristically fumbling six times in a title loss to Lummi. The experience was worth it. “For the first time being there, it was such a big rush,” coach Sonny Finley said. Although there will be a number of new faces, the Panthers remain the team to beat in the division. But state quarterfinalist Columbia-Inchelium expects to be in the hunt.
Outlook: Can Cusick repeat?
Cusick didn’t go to a camp this summer so Finley said he doesn’t know much about other 1B teams. Conversely, they don’t know much about him. “It’s kind of hard to predict,” he said. “I can’t say who’s tough.” He’ll find out early when the season opens at Almira-Coulee/Hartline, the team Cusick upset in the semifinals en route to Gridiron Classic in Tacoma. Because Finley graduated five all-league players, most of then two-way choices, there’s rebuilding to be done and the early schedule is brutal. “The first four games are toughest for us,” he said. “But we’ll be top-notch again this year.”
Players to watch
Juniors Ryan Sample and Derrick Bluff were all-leaguers who will man Cusick’s backfield. Two-way all-leaguer Johnny Andrews bolsters the line. The division was senior heavy last year, but all-league youngsters were all-purpose Wellpinit standout A.J. Kieffer and Columbia-Inchelium lineman Joey Biggs.