RIGBY –On the way to last year’s 5A state championship, the Rigby football team defeated previously unbeaten Rocky Mountain 31-9 in the state semifinals.
The win was impressive enough, but the key stat that stands out is the nine points allowed by the Rigby defense. Rocky Mountain had averaged more than 36 points last year, but the Trojan defense won the day.
As the two teams prepare for Saturday’s 5A championship game, the Rigby defense will again be tasked with stopping an undefeated Rocky Mountain team that may be even better, and averages nearly 41 points.
So far, Rigby’s defense has been up to the challenge. While the Trojans didn’t face many challenges during the season until a hard-fought win at Highland on Oct. 16, they have played well in the postseason.
“We’re playing at a high level right now,” cornerback Payton VanSteenkiste said. “All those games have been crazy, big atmospheres. We just kind of proved the moment wasn’t too big for us and we made plays when it mattered.”
Rigby, which has won 20 straight games dating back to last season, held off Eagle 35-28, and defeated Mountain View last week 26-19. The Trojans came up with big stops late in both games.
“We all know what our jobs are and our responsibilities,” linebacker Brigden Craig said of the team starting to gel after replacing a core group of seniors.
Both teams have similar numbers where it counts – Rigby averages 42.1 points and gives up 16.4. Rocky Mountain averages 40.6 points and surrenders 15.8.
“It’s going to be a test of wills defensively to see who’s mentally tough enough to withstand the early punches,” Rigby coach Armando Gonzalez said, noting the goal is to eliminate big plays.
Eagle and Mountain View each struck early with big plays that the Trojans had to overcome. Against Rocky Mountain, they’ll be focused on quarterback Kobe Warr and receiver Jordan Erickson.
Erickson will be a challenge. He scored three touchdowns in last week’s semifinal win over No. 1 Coeur d’Alene and is a big-play threat.
If the Rigby defense can keep Warr and Erickson off the field, then the Trojans just might have the advantage with their own high-scoring offense doing the damage.
“We’ve played some good teams with some good athletes and had to make some good stops to get our offense on the field to go win the game,” linebacker Landon Johnson said. “We have to do our job to put (our offense) in the best position to go down and score.”
Gonzalez noted that last year’s defense was buoyed by linemen Tanoa Togiai and Zhigy Falevai, but this year’s group may be better overall.
“In week 11 we’re a more disciplined, more technically sound defense that we were last year,” he said. “I think we’re ready for this test right now.”
Kickoff is Saturday at noon at Madison High.