St. Maries football coach Craig Teft thought it could happen.
It was certainly the goal considering how close the Lumberjacks came last year.
Three months after the season started here they are headed to the State 2A championship game Friday.
The No. 1-ranked Lumberjacks (11-0) play in the first state title game in school history Friday when they take on second-ranked Declo (10-2) at Holt Arena in Pocatello. Kickoff is at 4:30.
St. Maries’ season ended a year ago at 8-2 – both losses coming to the state finalists.
So Teft had an inkling.
“We knew we were close,” Teft said. “It drove our offseason in the weight room and at camp.”
St. Maries returned 15 seniors and they were all in when preseason practices started.
“We had such a big senior class coming back,” Teft said. “They got a taste of it last year. They really set the bar high. We expected to be in this game.”
St. Maries captured the Central Idaho League title by beating Orofino and defending state champ Grangeville. The Lumberjacks shut out Grangeville 8-0.
In a playoff opener, Declo topped Grangeville 39-20.
Teft said the score was deceiving.
“Not to take anything away from Declo, Grangeville didn’t have their starting quarterback and their best defensive lineman didn’t play,” Teft said.
While St. Maries has reached new territory, Declo is used to the big stage. The Hornets won back-to-back state titles in 2012 and ’13 and were state runners-up in ’09 and ’08.
Teft has all of Declo’s game video. But he needed to see Declo in person to take an edge off his anxiety. He watched Declo last Friday before St. Maries played the next day.
“I saw a very explosive team,” Teft said. “They have a sophomore running back (Keegan Duncan) who is probably the fastest kid in 2A football. He can hit a home run every time he touches the ball. They execute their stuff very well.”
Teft left hopeful.
“We have to limit the big plays and give them fits in the run game,” he said. “Last week what hurt us was special teams and field position. We have to put them on a long field and make them earn their yards.”
Teft has a lot of trust in the phase of the game that has been his team’s strength.
“Defense is the key,” he said. “They’ve carried us the whole year. “If we get another great performance out of team, are sound in special teams and figure out a way to score some points, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”
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