IEL story lines: Just one playoff spot for 5A teams this season
5A: Addison Johnson, Jackson Carlson, Gunnar Amos and Matt James of Coeur d’Alene; Seth McLeod, Nate Gomer and Curtis Triplett of Post Falls; Tucker Louie-McGee of Lake City; Reece Baldwin, Caleb Fisbeck and Drew Melton of Lewiston. 4A: Jack Akey, Kellen Davis, T.J. Lewis, Sean Kiblen, Ivan Mucy-Ngebo and Alex Lewis of Moscow; Joey Lebetter, Cade Coffey and Tyler Finlay of Lakeland; Chase Rodriguez and Harley Newhart of Sandpoint.
The road to the playoffs
It’s much more difficult for 5A teams this year. Just one playoff berth is available. The days of two berths appears over because leagues in the Boise area and eastern Idaho have grown. The three-team 4A league receives one berth.
Around the leagues
5A: Lake City has qualified for the playoffs 16 consecutive years. LC coach Van Troxel reports the smallest number of seniors and juniors (44) since the mid 1990s, but the Timberwolves will start 22 different players. Senior Tucker Louis-McGee, a starter in the secondary, takes over at quarterback. “I like our speed and we have to take advantage of it,” Troxel said. “We don’t have the size to get physical. We have to play to our strengths.”
CdA returns 14 starters and 38 lettermen. Senior lineman Matt James and wide receiver Chase Blakley have given oral commitments to the University of Washington. Other key players back are quarterback Gunnar Amos and wide receiver/defensive backs Addison Johnson and Jackson Carlson, all seniors. The Vikings will be tested by an early nonleague schedule that sees them playing three of their first four games on the road – beginning with West Linn, outside of Portland, Bothell at the Emerald City Classic at UW and Highland in Pocatello. Their home opener is against two-time Washington 4A state champ Skyline. “There are no short trips and no cupcakes,” CdA coach Shawn Amos said. “We want to challenge our kids early. We’re just going to control what we can control. We tell the kids that if they work like a champion then they have a chance to be a champion.”
Post Falls brings back 12 starters, including three-year starter at quarterback Joey Pfennigs. The Trojans expect to bounce back from a difficult season. They’ll rely on four experienced offensive linemen to protect Pfennigs and open holes for junior running back Seth McLeod and senior Patrick Agueros. Depth and lack of speed are the Trojans’ biggest issues. “This senior group is the best I’ve had at trying to improve their size, speed and skill,” PF coach Jeff Hinz said. The Trojans have changed their offensive schemes. “The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expect a different result,” Hinz said. “We needed to change.”
Lewiston returns 21 lettermen, led by senior QB/DB Drew Melton. The Bengals will be much more competitive in coach Shawn Nilsson’s second season. “Our speed and strength is much improved from last year as a whole,” Nilsson said. “Our skilled positions will be the strength of our team. Our depth is our biggest concern.
4A: Moscow won the league title in coach Phil Helbling’s first season. The Bears return six all-league players. They’re favored to repeat.
Lakeland returns seven starters and 15 lettermen. The Hawks must replace quarterback Derek Bayley, who opted not to return his senior season because of a shoulder injury. “We have a group of players that really like to play football the way it is supposed to be played,” Lakeland coach Tim Kiefer said. Kiefer said Lakeland’s issues are inexperience and size. “We have been plagued with preseason injuries and other issues in our senior class,” he said. “If we rally around each other, maintain good chemistry, say healthy from this point, we will win some games.”
Sandpoint coach Satini Puailoa is in the second year of his second stint and second year of a major rebuilding project. The Bulldogs are still chasing Moscow and Lakeland, but Puailoa sees some good signs with 42 sophomores and 45 freshmen. The biggest difficulty is this season is finding offensive linemen. The Bulldogs return 14 starters, 10 on defense. “We’re a lot quicker than last year,” Puailoa said. “I think we’re more athletic. We should be vastly improved from last year.”