Film sessions at Rigby have taken on a more serious tone this season. When the Trojans check out video of their games, coaches are quick to identify mistakes. Maybe somebody missed a block. Maybe someone got blown up.
Rocky Mountain, they’ll point out. Remember what happened last year.
“That’ll just click in our heads,” quarterback Tiger Adolpho said. “Like, if we’re going to get beat like that versus these teams, what is Rocky Mountain and Mountain View going to do to us?”
For Rigby, that underscores two themes that have developed this year: One, the Trojans hold themselves to a higher standard, determined to iron out every little error, whether they’re leading by one or 100. Two, they’re playing with a vengeance, playing to get back to the 5A state championship game, where they fell last year to Rocky Mountain.
Ahead of Rigby’s Friday night road date with Thunder Ridge, set for 7 p.m., now is a good time to examine just how the Trojans are striking a balance between goals short and long-term — and how they’re achieving both.
“Now you’re in conference play,” Rigby coach Armando Gonzalez said. “As the season continues, you’re playing teams that are going to make you pay for your mistakes.”
It may sound strange, but the Trojans don’t make winning state their goal, not explicitly at least. Gonzalez likes to say his team prioritizes three things: Beat Madison, win the 5A District 5-6 conference, and win in the playoffs. After that, well, the Trojans will take it from there.
Still, Rigby doesn’t shy away from the reality of the situation, which is that the team is trying to avenge last season’s loss in the state title game. The Trojans, Adolpho says, weren’t outclassed. They just beat themselves. Mistakes both mental and physical intertwined at the worst time.
Which is exactly why Rigby focuses so hard on playing clean football. The Trojans have the athletes — Adolpho, running back Zheik Falevai, receiver Taylor Freeman, linebacker Hunter Nield, the list goes on — to win regular-season games. They respect those opponents. They just hold themselves to a higher standard, one that requires them to clean up the errors that would become even more costly in playoff games.
The problem, Gonzalez said, is that’s still a work in progress.
“We’re making a lot of mental mistakes,” Gonzalez said. “We’re physically better than a lot of the teams we play, so we’ve been able to get away with it…. So we can’t keep making mental mistakes in the stuff we do.”
This week, that will become more important than ever for Rigby, particularly its defense. The Trojans will get the assignment of defending Thunder Ridge quarterback Tao Johnson, who possesses elite speed. This spring, he won the 5A state title in the 100-meter dash, which led Idaho State to extend a football offer. Montana State, Eastern Washington, Washington State, Chadron State, Utah, and Weber State have all offered football scholarships.
Opponents scouting the Titans hone in on Johnson and Paul Fitzgerald, a defensive end/receiver/ball carrier combo whose size and skills make him a challenge on both sides of the ball.
“All week, we’ve been trying to prepare to not let him get out of the pocket so he can make big plays,” Nield said of Johnson. “Just keep him contained so our blitzes and adjustments can get to him before he can scramble.”
Johnson and his speed open up a number of possibilities, so this is impossible to predict, but Rigby’s defense has rarely had trouble this season — with any quarterback. Dating back to the Trojans’ win over Post Falls on Sept. 3, Rigby has shut out opponents in seven of the last nine quarters. It’s allowing just 1.9 yards per carry this season. Opponents have also converted on just 27.3% of their third downs.
To Gonzalez, that’s the difference between his team’s defense and offense at the moment: The defense has been sharp in ways the offense is still working on.
“We have been mentally in-tune, and we’ve been really sound in terms of our adjustments to what teams are giving us and eliminating those mental mistakes,” Gonzalez said. “Defensively, we’ve gotten better each week. So I think we’re just looking to keep that improving as we go through the course of the season. I think by the time it’s all said and done, by the time we get to the end of the year, I think this defense could be really, really good.”
The interesting part is that for Rigby, this all creates a catch-22. The Trojans have played so well in each of their four games that they’ve avoided the kind of late, fourth-quarter test they will likely see in the postseason. Their average win margin is plus-30. Even in its 28-14 win over Skyline, the Trojans’ defense pitched a shutout in the second half, allowing their offense to run away with things late.
There may be no way for Rigby to solve that problem until the team gets closer to the postseason. For now, the Trojans get Thunder Ridge. Win or loss, it will move Rigby closer to the state playoffs, the place where atonement lives.
“I think, at times, we’ve been tested,” Gonzalez said. “But I don’t think consistently, we’ve shown we can play a complete game on offense, defense and special teams. I think that remains to be seen. So we’ve still got some work to do.”