IEL story lines

Top returners

Here are the first team all-IEL 5A players back: Cole Zacha, quarterback, Lewiston; Jeremiah Hazard, offensive lineman, Coeur d’Alene; Matt James, OL, CdA; C.J. Miller, OL, Post Falls; Joey Pfennigs, QB, co-offensive newcomer of year, PF; Mitch Bevacqua, wide receiver, co-offensive newcomer of year, Lake City; Reece Mahaffy, defensive back, CdA. 4A: Corey Hansel, RB, Lakeland; Tommy Fury, WR, Sandpoint; Matt Horne, OL, Lakeland; Bo Olmstead, OL, Moscow; Tyler Finlay, defensive lineman, Lakeland; Kyle Snyder, DB, Moscow; Casey Thorne, DB, Lakeland; Troy Carr, defensive most valuable player, Lakeland.

New coaches

He’s new in terms of filling a head coaching position, but he’s familiar as is most of his staff. Shawn Nilsson, a longtime Lewiston assistant coach, takes over for the Bengals. He’s brought back his mentor and Idaho Hall of Fame coach Nick Menegas.

They’ll co-coordinate the offense.

Two of the three 4A coaches are new, and again one is a familiar face. Satini Puailoa returns at Sandpoint where he coached the Bulldogs to a state title in 1997. He’s brought back his staff that includes a bunch of gray beards. Puailoa returns with one goal – to make Sandpoint the best 4A program in the state. Phil Helbling, a 2006 Moscow graduate, takes over at his alma mater.

This ‘n that

Coeur d’Alene is 23-1 the last two years and 30-5 the last three years, making the state playoffs six of the last eight years under coach Shawn Amos. The Vikings have won 21 straight dating back to early 2010. … At Lake City, Van Troxel, who founded the program when the school opened in 1994, has guided the Timberwolves to 15 straight playoff appearances as the school enters its 19th year. Troxel enters his 34th year overall as a head coach and is four wins away from 200 (196-148). … Post Falls is still seeking its first 5A playoff berth since last making the state playoffs in its final year in 4A in 2004.

What they’re saying

“We’ve got to change a (losing) culture,” Puailoa said of taking over a team that went 1-8 last year and was handled in most games. But Puailoa expects to make huge strides. … Lakeland, a 4A playoff qualifier last year, will be Sandpoint’s chief challenger. The Hawks return nine starters and will start junior Derek Bayley, son of offensive coordinator Mike Bayley, at quarterback. “We have a chance to be a pretty good team if we stay healthy,” Lakeland coach Tim Kiefer said. “We have good overall team speed and great character.” … CdA will start a familiar name at QB – junior Gunnar Amos, son of the head coach. “He’s been waiting patiently for his turn,” Shawn Amos, the coach, said. “It’s like he’s been waiting for 17 years.” … LC, indeed, has kept its playoff streak alive, but has limped into the postseason the last couple of years. Troxel believes there’s been a change in attitude and passion since a year ago. “We’re a lot better than we were a year ago,” Troxel said. “They’re really into football. They want to be winners, be competitors. If we do those things, making the playoffs 16 years in a row will take care of itself.” … Post Falls very well could be the best 5A team in the state not to make the playoffs the last three years. The Trojans blew an opportunity to break through last year, and coach Jeff Hinz is frustrated that his program hasn’t broken through. “We’re youthful at some spots but I think we can compete for one of the two playoff spots,” Hinz said.

Road to the playoffs

Just one 4A team advances to the playoffs. The format has changed in 5A. The top two teams go to the playoffs, but the teams will have play-in games the ninth week.

The top seed from league play will entertain the No. 4 seed and the No. 3 seed will travel to No. 2. The winners advance to the postseason.

Predicted order of finish

5A: 1. Coeur d’Alene, 2. Lake City, 3. Post Falls, 4. Lewiston. 4A: 1. Sandpoint, 2. Lakeland, 3. Moscow.

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