In years past, Skyline always had the athletes. The experience. Hype. Expectations.

For good reason, of course. The Grizzlies captured a 4A state title four years ago. They did it again last year. They hadn’t established complete dominance over the area, not entirely, but few teams in their classification could run with them.

All of that made Skyline’s 20-6 win over Sandpoint Friday night in Moscow, good for the Grizzlies’ second straight state championship, even more meaningful for the club.

“This year, it was adversity,” Skyline coach Scott Berger said. “We had to battle through some things. That made it different. People ask, ‘What are they like?’, comparing the teams, and it’s kind of like your kids. Each of them are different, and you love them in their own way.”

To beat Sandpoint at the Kibbie Dome, Skyline had to do what it has all postseason: turn defense into offense.

In the first half alone, the Bulldogs lost two turnovers, both on fumbles. Skyline capitalized on both. After the first, quarterback Lachlan Haacke completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Kenyon Sadiq. On the second, the Grizzlies returned the ball deep into Bulldog territory, where they used a short rush from Caden Taggart to secure a 14-0 lead.

It hardly stopped there.

Moments later, after Sandpoint trimmed the deficit with a rushing score, Haacke found Sadiq again. This touchdown pass covered 27 yards. The Grizzlies took a two-score lead.

“His intensity is amazing,” Berger said of Sadiq. “He’s a competitor. A very intense kid when he’s out there playing. He plays hard. He blocks hard. Catches hard. Competes. It’s nice to have a real talented skill guy like that with you. It’s huge.”

Sadiq, who totaled seven catches for 88 yards and the two touchdowns, represented one of the few returning skill position players for Skyline. That’s another reason why few expected the Grizzlies to repeat: They lost a trio of crucial players in those spots, from quarterback Cade Marlow to receivers Eli Ames and Connor Maloney. Could Sadiq plug one of those holes?

Over the season, he answered that question with an emphatic yes. Sadiq combined with running back Abrahn Silverio to bring a tad of experience into this season, but the Grizzlies had to groom Haacke, their new starting quarterback. Heading into the season, their offense faced questions it rarely had before.

They didn’t find the answers early. The Grizzlies lost three of their first four games of the season, falling three games below .500 for the first time in what felt like a million years. Berger never lost hope — He harkened back to the saying what we want is still in front of us — but until Skyline turned things around, it looked like the program was headed for a down year.

Good thing seasons include more than games.

Instead, the Grizzlies completed the regular season by winning four of their next five. Their one loss came to Idaho Falls in the Emotion Bowl, sure, but the reality was beginning to set in: These guys were finding things that worked on offense.

Mostly, that meant simplifying things for Haacke, who found his rhythm by hitting players like Sadiq, Taggart and Hamilton Woodruff on screen passes, mixing in downfield attempts and putting the ball in the hands of their most athletic playmakers.

“This year, we were young. Not much experience,” Berger said. “Some guys stepped up and had to play real big.”

Even more importantly, the Grizzlies’ defense anchored the entire operation. On Friday, they yielded just one score, a long rushing touchdown in the second frame. The group did give up 31 to Pocatello in the semifinals, but Skyline held Lakeland to 21 points and Vallivue to 14. Consider how slowly the offense started in those games and you understand how important the Grizzlies’ defense became all season.

Their reward was the biggest prize of all: a state title. Doesn’t hurt that it was the program’s second in a row, either.

“It’s a lot of fun. This is a nice group of kids,” Berger said. “Real special and fun to be around. Every year is a little different.”

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

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

Recommended for you