The area’s 5A conference had a shift in power last season as Rigby not only overtook perennial champ Highland to win the conference crown, but ran the gauntlet of the state’s toughest teams to win the Trojans’ first 5A state championship. For coach Armando Gonzalez, it was perfect storm featuring a lineup loaded with experience and talent and the guts to pull out close games, including a thrilling double-overtime win over Coeur d'Alene for the state title.
“I told the kids from the beginning that staying on top will be harder than getting to the top,” Gonzalez said as Rigby prepares for 2020. “When you’re working to catch the Highlands and the Coeur d'Alenes and Rocky Mountains sometimes you sneak up on people. But when you’ve actually beaten those teams and won a state championship, I don’t think anybody’s going to overlook us anymore.”
While the Trojans look to fill plenty of holes in their lineup following the graduation of a celebrated senior class, the Idaho Falls Tigers make the move up from 4A. Coach Marty Duffin noted the challenge of competing against bigger schools and bigger teams will likely take more than one season of growth.
Thunder Ridge was a bit under the radar last season, but the Titans enter their third year of competition with several milestones in sight and Madison looks to rebound from a down 2019.
IDAHO FALLS TIGERS
Marty Duffin enters his second season as head coach and gets another challenge this year as the Tigers move up to 5A. They’ll have to replace a strong running game led by all-conference running back Spencer Moore. Junior Skyler Olsen moves into the quarterback role and Hunter Miller is back at wide receiver. The Tigers also return two starting offensive linemen in Jaxson Duffin and Andrew Messaros. Landon Gneiting anchors the defensive line.
Idaho Falls faces its biggest test over the second half of the season when it faces Rigby, Skyline, Madison and Highland.
Idaho Falls Tigers
Coach: Marty Duffin, 2nd year
Last year: 3-6, 2-3 (in 4A), did not make the playoffs
Impact players: Skyler Olsen, jr., QB; Kyan Jesperson, jr., RB/LB; Ben Moore, jr., RB; Jaxson Duffin, sr. OL/DL; Hunter Miller, jr., WR; Andrew Messaros, sr., OL; Landon Gneiting, jr., OL/DL.
Aug. 28 vs. Hillcrest, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 at Blackfoot, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 at Thunder Ridge, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 vs. Century, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Pocatello, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 vs. Rigby, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 vs. Skyline, 4 p.m.
Oct. 16 at Madison, 7 p.m.
Oct. 24 vs. Highland, 7 p.m.
The Bobcats were injury-plagued a year ago but still had one of the conference’s most exciting players in quarterback Easton Cordero. Cordero has since graduated and junior Kieren Valora comes up from the junior varsity squad, but coach Mitch Buck said Valora should also present a dual-threat danger to opposing defenses. Defensive lineman Gavin Fuller was named second team all-conference a year ago and will be joined on the line by Quin Wilcox.
“We can put things together pretty good if the kids pay attention and stay healthy,” Buck said. “We could be pretty solid and hopefully, the defense will be able to mature and be pretty solid.”
Cordero accounted for the bulk of the team’s offense a year ago, but also had weapons in Trey Holloway and Joe Lundin. This season Buck said there should be more consistency and balance. The conference is expected to be competitive with Rigby trying to defend its state championship, Highland as the usual contender, and an improving Thunder Ridge squad. Newcomer Idaho Falls may be the unknown.
Koster Kennard/Standard Journal
Coach: Mitch Buck, 25th season
Last year: 3-7, 1-2, lost in first round of playoffs
Impact players: Kieren Valora, jr., QB; Trevor Lucero, sr., RB; Ryan Winfree; Carter Stanford, sr., OL; Raymundo Charqueno, sr., OL/DL.
Aug. 28 vs. Pocatello, 7 p.m. at Madison HS
Sept. 4 vs. Sky View (UT), 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Hillcrest, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 at Bonneville, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 vs. Highland, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 vs. Skyline, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Thunder Ridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 vs. Idaho Falls, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Rigby, 7 p.m.
The Trojans are definitely not sneaking up on anyone in 2020, but they’ll have some key spots to fill, beginning with quarterback. Keegan Thompson, the Post Register All-Area Player of the Year last season, was a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who torched defenses with his running prowess and passing ability. Rigby starts the season with two quarterbacks in junior Taylor Freeman, who played junior varsity last season, and Tiger Adolpho, who transferred in from Hawaii. “They both provide a different style at quarterback,” Gonzalez said, noting that whichever one doesn’t start at quarterback will likely play receiver.
Rigby was bolstered by a sizable line last season and returns four offensive linemen. That experience will be a strength as the new skill players mature, Gonzalez said.
Coach: Armando Gonzalez, 4th season
Last year: 10-1, 3-0, won 5A state championship
Impact players: B.J. Madsen, sr., OL; Landon Johnson, sr., LB; Blake Anderson, sr., OL, Kannon Koster, jr., OL, Damien Morales, jr., OL; Zheik Falevai, jr., RB; Trajen Larsen, sr., WR.
Aug. 29 vs. Box Elder (UT), 4 p.m. at Madison HS
Sept. 4 at Post Falls, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Skyline, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18 vs. Hillcrest, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 vs. Thunder Ridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 2 at Idaho Falls, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9 at Blackfoot, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 at Highland, TBD
Oct. 23 vs. Madison, 7 p.m.
THUNDER RIDGE TITANS
The Titans enter their third season after a year of firsts in 2019. After going winless in their inaugural season in 2018, the Titans won their first game, won a thrilling homecoming game over Idaho Falls, and picked up their first conference win in the season finale against Madison. The defense gave up a conference high 29.67 points per game but should be improved with eight returning starters. Offensively, the Titans return tailback Kaysen Isom, who accounted for 1,100 yards of offense, and quarterback Tao Johnson, who started as a sophomore a year ago. Coach Jeff Marshall noted the team’s maturity should be key as several three-year players who have been along for the ride with the emerging program.
Thunder Ridge Titans
Coach: Jeff Marshall, 3rd season
Last year: 3-6, 1-2, missed the playoffs
Impact players: Kaysen Isom, sr., RB; Dutch Driggs, sr., WR; Kory Caldwell, sr., LB; Parker Norman, sr., DB; Paul Fitzgerald, jr., DL; Max Whitehouse, sr., LB.
Aug. 21 Lost to Highland 38-12
Aug. 28 vs. Blackfoot, 7 p.m.
Sept. 4 at Skyline, 7 p.m.
Sept. 11 vs. Idaho Falls, 7 p.m.
Sept. 25 at Rigby, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 at Highland, TBD
Oct. 9 vs. Madison, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 at Bonneville, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 vs. Hillcrest 7 p.m.