The bitter lessons are the hardest to forget.
And if you’re lucky, they can lead to the sweetest rewards.
A year ago East Valley finished the Great Northern League football season in a three-way tie for the championship. But because of the league’s tiebreaking rules, the Knights got the title but none of the benefits.
In short, East Valley was shut out of the playoffs.
“We knew what the rules were and we kept telling the kids to pay attention and take care of their business so it wouldn’t come down to that,” coach Adam Fisher said. “But we did.”
Fisher and his staff used that disappointment as a teachable moment, asking each player to think about what more he could have done over the course of the entire season that could have made a difference. It became a theme for the season: Take care of your business.
The team responded, and the Knights set about the business of winning the league title, which they accomplished last week by holding off Deer Park, 31-29, earning the right to host Othello at 1 p.m. today in a first-round state Class 2A playoff game.
“We’ve had a bye week before the last game going all the way back to when we were in the Greater Spokane League,” Fisher said. “We were able to give the kids a couple extra days off. We did a bunch of video work, but we were able to get some kids rested up.”
The Knights (6-3) were far from sharp against Deer Park, the coach said. But they got the job done.
“We just talked about the same thing – taking care of their business and not relying on someone else to do it for them,” Fisher said. “We knew we were in the playoffs, but we needed to win that game to make sure we would host a first-round game. As it turns out, Colville beat Pullman and that spot was ours, but we didn’t know that during the game.
“And we got it done. Deer Park came out and played hard and I give them a lot of credit. That’s the thing about our league – you have to come out and play hard every week because there are no guaranteed wins. In college football, at Alabama, say, their schedule pretty much guarantees them seven wins. That’s not true in the NFL and it’s definitely not true in our league. Even a team like Clarkston, that struggled, was within a touchdown or so of everyone they played.”
In Othello, East Valley faces a potent run-oriented option offense and a hard-nosed defense.
The Huskies turned to freshman quarterback Adrian Garza midway through the season and needed to win out after a 31-14 loss to Ellensburg in mid-October.
After knocking off East Valley-Yakima in the regular season finale, 52-12, Othello needed to survive a mini-playoff with Prosser and West Valley to earn the No. 2 berth out of the Central Washington Athletic Conference.
“They went with the freshman quarterback before the Ellensburg game and he’s done pretty well,” Fisher said. “His brother (David) was their quarterback last year when they lost to Prosser in the state quarterfinals and should have advanced to the semis.
“He’s athletic and he seems to understand their offense. They don’t ask him to throw the ball a whole lot, but he does a good job running their option and he can run, too.”
As they have against every opponent, the Knights will look for ways to get the ball into the hands of their two standout wide receivers: J.T. Phelan and Gage Burland.
“Those two guys are tough to match-up with for anyone,” Fisher said. “J.T. is 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and Gage is 6-2 and 190 – that’s tough for anyone to match up with. Othello’s corners are 5-9 and 175, so they’re giving up a lot of size.”
Quarterback Connor Ramm has a knack for putting the football in places where his receivers can make plays, whether the routes be short or deep.
And if teams over-play the pass?
The Knights have a proven ability to run the ball with William Nixdorf and Isaac Jordan, both of whom have breakaway speed.