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Firth tailback Sam Park cuts back in front of Aberdeen defender Juan Hernandez in the Cougars’ playoff opener.

Of course it comes down to this. Naturally the 2A playoffs come down to Firth and West Side, the clubs that battled in last year’s state title game, the same ones that opened this season with one of the crazier games you might ever see. These things are inevitable.

The Cougars (9-2) and Pirates (10-0) will meet 9 p.m. Friday at Holt Arena, the site of this year’s 2A state championship game. There, Firth will have a chance to exact revenge for its loss in last season’s title clash, which West Side won in a convincing 39-0 walloping, as well as this year’s loss, an overtime setback to kick off the season. The Cougars also have an opportunity to end the Pirates’ 31-game win streak, which started all the way back in September 2019.

Video of the game will be available on the NFHS Network, and audio will be streamed via Idaho Sports.

With that, here are three keys to victory for Firth.

1. Establish the ground attack.

For Firth, “ground attack” may as well be synonymous with “offense.” The Cougars rely on a cadre of ballcarriers to generate their yards: Sam Park, Burton Park, Gage Vasquez and Alex Vasquez, which is the group that has helped Firth get here by beating Aberdeen, Declo and North Fremont. Against Aberdeen, the Cougars racked up 204 rushing yards (7.3 yards per carry). To beat Declo, Gage Vasquez actually completed a last-second touchdown pass, but against North Fremont, Firth returned to the ground. That will be key for the Cougars, who do mix in some well-timed pass plays to catch foes off-guard, but whose offense revolves largely around a speedy ground game.

2. Remain composed if the game gets close.

One of Firth’s advantages in this one is how many close games the club has played. Even outside of the overtime contest against West Side back in August, the Cougars have also played nail-biters against North Fremont (22-21 loss), Declo (20-16 win) and another against North Fremont (12-8 victory). Even more encouraging for Firth: all those games have come in the last four weeks, meaning the group doesn’t have to think very far back to remember how it stayed in those games. Meanwhile, since that season-opener, all nine of West Side’s wins have come by 27-plus points. If this tilt pans out in a close way, key for the Cougars will be keeping cool heads, same as they did in those four games. Odds are, that could come in handy, especially later in the fourth frame.

3. Keep West Side’s offense in check.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand how West Side has rolled through its schedule to an unbeaten record: The Pirates’ offense is electric. They’re averaging 45 points per game, and they’ve hit that mark in each of their past five games. Quarterback Blaize Brown, Cage Brokens, Bryler Shurtliff and Parker Moser have keyed West Side’s offensive assault, which has eclipsed 50 points twice this year and 60 once.

So Firth will need to force a turnover or two. The Cougars have come up with 28 this season alone, including seven interceptions from Burton Park, the same guy who features prominently in his team’s offense. If Firth can turn turnovers into points, the group will like its chances.

Greg Woods is a sports reporter at the Post Register. Reach him 208-542-6772 and follow him on Twitter at GregWWoods.

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