Coeur d’Alene is the clear-cut favorite in the 5A Inland Empire League. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.
The Vikings, knocked off by Lewiston last season, appear poised to be return to the top spot. Coeur d’Alene – ranked No. 1 in the state preseason poll – is loaded, but it could be without starting quarterback Colson Yankoff (knee) for a couple of games.
Post Falls, Lake City and Lewiston can all make a case for the second spot and a state playoff berth.
“Coeur d’Alene is kind of head and shoulders above everybody,” new Lewiston coach Matt Pancheri said. “I think we can compete for that second spot. I’d like to think we can go compete with Coeur d’Alene. The Yankoff kid is awfully special, a once-in-a-longtime kid, and that’s not the only kid they’ve got.”
Second-year Post Falls coach Blaine Bennett learned in his first tour that the IEL is offensive minded.
“Most of the coaches last year were offensive coaches so they put their best athletes on offense,” Bennett said. “It’s almost like the Big Sky 20, 25 years ago, trying to outscore everybody. The ball is in the air a lot and there are a lot of points on the board.”
Coeur d’Alene Vikings
Coeur d’Alene has another impressive collection of talent and another arduous non-conference schedule, including Washington 4A champion Camas and California’s Capital Christian (54-9 since 2012).
“The funny thing is my coaches kind of give me a hard time,” said coach Shawn Amos, who led CdA to state titles in 2010, 2011 and 2013. “We’re very unlikely to go undefeated with the schedules we put together, which is fine. When we get to the state playoffs, we try to give ourselves a shot.”
As in past years, the Vikings have a number of standouts who will see time on both sides of the ball. All-IEL selections Cole Ramseyer (WR/DE), Caleb Beggerly (RB/LB), Kyler Prendergast (WR/DB) and Sam Matheson (WR/DB) return. Others to watch: Noah Gunn (OL/DL), Gabe Zanetti (OL/DL) and linebackers Noah Throm and Ross Chadderton.
“Our depth, except on the offensive line, is pretty dang good,” Amos said, “and we’ll play them all.”
Post Falls Trojans
Post Falls returns quarterback Nate Buer and running backs Braden Vaughan and Quin Bennett from last year’s 6-3 squad.
“Having those three guys, all seniors, that’s a good thing,” said coach Blaine Bennett, no relation to Quin. “We’re trying to do some uptempo stuff and you rely on the decisions of the quarterback. He’s certainly smart enough to take that leadership role.”
The defense is solid in the back seven with senior linebackers Coleton Kazmierczak and Gage Ficklin, and defensive backs Junior Williams, Casey Walker, Taylor Ryan, Brock Zeller and Allen Ballew. Several of those players will see time on offense, too.
Lake City Timberwolves
Grant Clark and Zane Lettau provide a strong running back tandem. Clark shared IEL newcomer of the year honors with Post Falls’ Nate Buer. Senior Bryce Buttz takes over at quarterback.
The Timberwolves went 3-6 in coach Bryce Erickson’s first season, but they’re optimistic about moving up the IEL standings.
Erickson expects improvement in year two because “the team understands the system and expectations. We should be a more physical and disciplined team.”
Erickson called the defensive front seven “solid” and the unit’s speed has improved. LC needs to stay healthy with limited depth.
First-year head coach Matt Pancheri isn’t the only new face in Lewiston. The Bengals lost a whopping 21 starters from last year’s 9-2 season that ended in the state quarterfinals.
“We don’t have a lot of seniors this season and our depth isn’t fantastic, but our junior class is awfully good,” Pancheri said.
The core include Nicholas Blume (DE/OT), Treyce Bradley (WR/DB), Troy Hanes (DB/RB), Connor Spencer (WR/DB) and Donaven Santana, who will see time at running back, safety and backup quarterback.
Junior Tyson Wallace steps in at quarterback for Colton Richardson, who is now at Idaho.
“We’ll still spray the ball around a little bit, but not as much as last year,” Pancheri said. “I think we’re pretty competitive with our front-line group (on defense) but if anybody gets hurt we’re going to feel it.”
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