Top-ranked Coeur d’Alene had yet to face a team as dynamic and tested as Rocky Mountain when they recently met in a no-fans-allowed 5A state semifinal.
It wasn’t by design.
Before the Vikings made the 450-mile trek to the Meridian, Idaho school, they outscored their foes 397-96, avoiding gutcheck scenarios they would have likely experienced if not for a coronavirus-adjusted schedule.
Rocky Mountain, which won a pair of nail-biters in a deep and sizable South Idaho Conference, put those lessons to work in a 36-21 upset of Coeur d’Alene, which was widely expected to earn a consecutive trip to the 5A title game.
The Grizzlies (9-0) went on to upset defending state champion Rigby 17-14 on Saturday.
“We didn’t see a team as good as Rocky in the regular season,” Coeur d’Alene coach Shawn Amos said.
The Vikings usually do, but the pandemic blew up their brawny nonconference slate.
Coeur d’Alene (8-1) was set to open the season against defending Alaska state champion East High before the Anchorage school opted out of its trip to Idaho due to COVID-19 concerns.
When the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association postponed its football season in the spring, the Vikings lost games against two of the Greater Spokane’s better programs – Gonzaga Prep and Mt. Spokane – as well as games against 2018 4A state champion Union (Vancouver) and 2019 4A playoff qualifier North Creek (Bothell).
“We schedule those types of early-season games for a reason,” said Amos, whose program has earned either a state champion, state runner-up or third-place trophy in nine of the past 12 seasons.
Jack Prka, Coeur d’Alene’s senior quarterback, echoed Amos.
“We missed those games,” Prka said. “They would have helped us in the long run.”
To make up for the lost nonleague games, the four-team 5A Inland Empire League had each member play each other twice.
Post Falls, which has qualified for the playoffs three straight seasons, was the only IEL team to get relatively close to Coeur d’Alene, falling 30-16 in their second meeting. The Trojans suffered a 48-7 blowout in the first meeting.
Coeur d’Alene also thumped a pair of smaller schools to open the year, blowing out eventual 4A state semifinalist Sandpoint (55-0) and Lakeland (48-7).
Amos, who concluded his 24th season at Coeur d’Alene, and Prka, recently named the Inland Empire League’s Offensive Most Valuable Player, were happy to otherwise have a season with little disruption.
“It was a crazy year. Every day you’re waiting to get punched in the gut,” Amos said. “But these kids got to play a season. It ended on the field, and not of our control.”
Prka, an All-State talent that passed for more than 2,300 yards and 30 touchdowns, was happy his senior season didn’t go completely awry.
“We didn’t really know if we were going to have an entire season,” said Prka, who has generated recruiting interest from several Division II, Division III and NAIA schools. “Thank God we did. We just kept our head down.”
Coeur d’Alene’s entire varsity roster eluded the virus, said.
“We were smart about staying in,” Prka said. “Having class at the school just two days a week helped, too.”
Coeur d’Alene, one of the state’s premier prep football programs, will graduate 22 seniors.
The Vikings return All-IEL talents in running back Gunner Giulio, offensive lineman Jaxson Washington, defensive back Isaiah Griffin and several other lettermen.
Young Sandpoint improved
Sandpoint (5-5) also had its schedule adjusted due to the loss of nonconference games with Washington schools.
The Bulldogs instead played five games against bigger 5A IEL teams, taking a 1-4 mark into 4A IEL play before downing rivals Moscow (31-21) and Lakeland (6-0) to win the three-team league.
Sandpoint went on to beat Hillcrest (30-27) and again Moscow (31-13) at home in the playoffs, advancing to its first state semifinal since 2015.
The Bulldogs fell 20-0 at Skyline, which went on to beat Emmett 42-22 in the state title game on Saturday.
The young Bulldogs return a wealth of talent in 2021, including 4A IEL Offensive MVP quarterback Parker Pettit, All-IEL running back Gerrit Cox and All-IEL receiver Cody Newhart.
Mullan has talent to return
Dietrich handled Mullan 62-0 in the 1A Division II semifinals earlier this month, then the top-ranked Blue Devils went on to beat Carey 34-28 in the 8-man state title game on Saturday.
Mullan (8-2), a two-time defending North Star League champion, returns the bulk of its roster in 2021, including co-MVPs Adam Ball and Luke Trogden, both running backs and linebackers.
The Tigers lost one nonconference game this season due to a coronavirus cancellation (Seeley Swan, Montana).
One Mullan player tested positive for the virus this season, head coach Stetson Spooner said, and sat out the Tigers’ semifinal game to quarantine.
“Dietrich whooped us regardless,” Spooner said. “But (the virus affected) a position where we really had no depth.”
Mullan, which co-ops with nearby St. Regis, Montana due to a lack of numbers, brought home its first state football trophy since 2006. St. Regis hadn’t earned state hardware in football since 1989.
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