For most teams, we have reached the halfway mark or just shy of the halfway mark of the 2021 regular season for high school football. Now it is time to start separating the pretenders from the contenders as the teams begin the race to the playoffs, which start in about five weeks.

There probably hasn’t been a single team from Bingham County that has been eliminated from the playoffs, just like there probably hasn’t been a team that has a stranglehold on the playoffs, but most of them appear to be headed toward making the playoffs and hopefully advancing along toward the state championships like we all want them to do.

Only three of Bingham County’s teams will be in action this week, as Firth and Aberdeen will both have a bye and skip a Friday night.

Heading the action will be the unbeaten Shelley Russets, who at 4-0 will see a dramatic move up in the 4A rankings this week as one of only two teams in 4A that remain unbeaten, the other being Minico. Snake River at 1-2, will be on the road to South Fremont, who just suffered their first loss of the year at the hands of the speedy Firth Cougars last week in a battle of 2A vs. 3A teams.

And of course, Blackfoot — fresh off a pair of wins that have them back to .500 at 2-2 — will take to the road to battle the 3-1 Preston Indians, who have posted wins by a single point over Lakeland and Star Valley before beating Bonneville by seven points on the road a week ago.

In any case, let’s get to the action and how things could well turn out for our three Bingham County teams that will be playing.

SHELLEY (4-0) vs HILLCREST (0-4), 7 pm Friday night at Russet Stadium

The big question here is will the Russets continue to win after finally seeming to get things figured out at the 4A level or will Hillcrest revert back to the team that won it all in 2018?

Shelley has done everything right so far this year. They won a close game to open the season on the road at Preston, 15-6. They beat the defending 3A state champions in Sugar-Salem, again on the road, by the score of 20-7, and then they demolished a pair of Magic Valley teams in Jerome and Canyon Ridge by scoring in the 40s against both of them. They have been brought along by coach Josh Wells in a manner that has allowed the team to build up confidence as they went and now they think that they can beat anybody and maybe, just maybe they can.

Hillcrest, on the other hand, has been beaten and beaten and had it rubbed in their noses that they can’t beat anybody and maybe that is in their mindset as this game rolls around. I am not a big fan of 4A schools playing 5A schools for that exact reason, not to mention the fact that the bigger, stronger 5A schools could inflict injuries on the 4A schools that could take them out of consideration for championships of their own. I truly think that Hillcrest is probably better than their 0-4 record indicates and therefore, the Russets had better work hard this week to prepare for whatever the Knights bring to the field on Friday night.

Hillcrest’s offense is only averaging around 190 yards per game with most of that coming from the passing game. Shelley’s top runner, Ryker Clinger, has put up that by himself, racking up a pair of 200-yard rushing games in each of the past two weeks. The edge here goes to Shelley.

Defensively, the Russets have been averaging giving up around five points per game, while shutting out Canyon Ridge a week ago which means the defense is solid. Hillcrest has averaged around seven points per game offensively, which also gives the edge to Shelley.

The power rankings for the teams may spell the entire story a bit better. Shelley leads the state with a 47.67 ranking while Hillcrest is 23rd with a -27.33 ranking. That is a big difference, but could also be a bit on the misleading side as they have played three 5A schools already and Shelley hasn’t played a single one, but according to MaxPreps, who decides who goes to the state playoffs this year, that isn’t supposed to matter at all. We shall see about that one.

Everything about this game says that Shelley should win, I just don’t think it will be by the huge margin others may think. I think Shelley is the better team, probably have a bit more depth and I don’t think Hillcrest will have an answer for Clinger. If Clinger gets a bunch of yards early on, Hillcrest will be forced to pass to try and catch up and with Shelley’s linebackers and defensive backs, I don’t think that can happen.

Shelley should win this game.

Shelley 38, Hillcrest 14

BLACKFOOT (2-1) at PRESTON (3-1) 7 pm Friday at Indians Stadium

This is probably one of the most intriguing games in the state of Idaho this week, particularly in the 4A classification. There is not a clear answer to a lot of different questions that will be asked, clear up to the time of the game.

You can look at strength of schedule and get one answer, you can look at power rankings and get another answer, you can look at the various polls and get even another answer.

The only thing that will really matter in all of that analysis is how will the game be played?

Preston has won three times, but only by nine total points, and they lost by nine points as well. The highest point total by Preston is 28, but they have only given up a total of 69 points, an average of around 17 per game. They have scored 69 points as well, so the balance is 0 points per game.

Blackfoot has lost two games by two points, they have won two games by 18 points, a 16-point difference, or four points per game.

Preston plays a slow moving game, while Blackfoot will likely try and speed things up a bit which should offset things from that standpoint.

Blackfoot has scored 110 points in four games, while giving up 94 points, again, conflicting numbers when compared to what Preston has done.

Power Rankings has Preston at a +20.00 while Blackfoot is at +12.67 which would favor Preston by about a touchdown in this game.

Home field advantage is usually about seven points as well, so that is negated the Power Ranking.

If this game is played close to the vest, which it very likely could be, then it will come down to the kicking game and that will favor Blackfoot, who has a superior kicker and field goal unit. I haven’t seen enough scoring from Preston this year to think they could keep up if Blackfoot gets off to a good start and puts some points up on the board early on. Preston just isn’t built to make a big comeback against anyone this season.

The game plan from what I can see should have Blackfoot trying to air it out with the passing game and using Ja’Vonte King and Deegan Hale and the other wide receivers to open things up early on and try and get a couple of scores through the air and see if Preston can rally back.

Blackfoot’s defense has been much better the past two games than they were in the first two games, so why not try and get a lead early on and turn things over to the defense, who could make Preston pay for having to press and try and play catch-up in here.

If the Broncos can get a couple of scores on the board by using the passing game early on, they will make it easier to get the running game going and that will only help the bevy of running backs that Blackfoot has to put the game away early on.

If Preston gets on the board early and begins to slow things down and take time off the clock, effectively shortening the game, then it could spell trouble for Blackfoot.

The guess here is that Blackfoot will establish things early on, get a decent and sizable lead, and force the action on Preston. That would spell success for Blackfoot and doom for Preston.

This game should be Blackfoot’s to win or lose and the thought here is that they will probably win it by a decent margin, but it could end up being a landslide if Blackfoot gets rolling early on and Preston tries to play catch-up in here.

Blackfoot 31, Preston 14

SNAKE RIVER (1-2) at SOUTH FREMONT (3-1) 7 pm Friday at Cougar Stadium in St. Anthony

When Snake River opened the season several weeks ago with a big 57-40 win over Kimberly, the Panther faithful were overjoyed at what they saw.

The Panthers had racked up over 400 yards rushing, led by the 225 yards by senior running back Zach Stailey and another 165 yards from senior Carson Hawker as they steamrolled Kimberly from start to finish.

So dominating was the victory that the Panthers never punted the ball a single time and they scored on every possession they had in the game.

The thing that was missed really became noticeable the second and third games of the year, when they were defeated by West Side 27-0 and then by Blackfoot 35-21.

In all three games, Kimberly, West Side and Blackfoot all had a wide receiver that put up huge numbers in the passing game that Snake River just had no answer for.

This week the Panthers travel to South Fremont, who just lost their first game of the season to Firth last Friday. Guess what? The Cougars of South Fremont have several wide receivers that can put up some big numbers, led by Easton Krebs, who simply catches everything he touches. They also have very capable receivers in Bryson Forbush and Mason Siddoway and their quarterback, Kaiman Peebles, is a 6’4” strong armed type that can also punish you with his ability to escape trouble in the pocket with his legs. That should send chills up and down the spine of the defensive coaches of Snake River if they haven’t been able to shore things up in the two weeks between the Blackfoot game and this game on Friday night.

So South Fremont burst out of the blocks this season with a quick 3-0 record and a top five ranking in the 3A classification, in a conference that includes defending state champion Sugar-Salem. That says a lot for the respect coach Chad Hill has in the state and what people think that they can do this year.

That being said, Snake River has every opportunity to win this game if they don’t panic and they can find a way to slow down the passing game from South Fremont.

In the game against 2A power Firth, South Fremont gave up nearly 200 yards rushing to tailback Sam Park and another bunch of yards to running back Burton Park and quarterback Gage Vasquez as it seemed Firth just ran the ball up and down the field.

It wasn’t exactly that easy, but the Firth team has worked hard offensively to improve off of last year and the results are definitely showing. They took two-time defending champion West Side to overtime in their opener, and probably should have a win to show for it as they were ahead with 10 seconds remaining in the game and gave up a 35-yard touchdown run to All-State 2A player Cage Brokens before losing in overtime by the final of 26-20. Firth is tough and they are improved off of last year, so it wasn’t a surprise that they could beat South Fremont. It was just the way that they did it to a previously unbeaten 3A team.

If Snake River can control the Cougars’ passing game, they have a great chance to take time off the clock with their running game and essentially shorten the game considerably. If they can’t, it will likely become a shootout of sorts, much like the Kimberly game that had 97 points scored in it.

If South Fremont gets the passing game going early on, then they will chew up chunks of yardage and move up and down the field with great prowess and that does not bode well for the Panthers unless they can score every time they have the ball like what happened in the Kimberly game.

This one is going to come down to two things. One, can South Fremont shake off the loss to Firth and rebound quickly against the Snake River Panthers and two, can Snake River fix the pass defense that has given up big plays to Gatlin Bair of Kimberly, Ja’Vonte King of Blackfoot, and of course Bryler Shurtliff of West Side. That is a trend that needs to be changed if the Panthers are going to go anywhere this season, especially into the 3A state playoffs.

It seems pretty simple, but to change those two things are not just a flip a switch type of thing that can be done. It will take some serious work on the part of the Snake River coaches.

South Fremont 28, Snake River 24 in a thriller at the end.

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