An improbable two-point conversion in the final seconds of the 2016 4A state championship game capped off a dream season for head coach Scott Berger and the Skyline Grizzlies.
If the Grizzlies hope to repeat as champs in 2017 they are going to have to fight off the rest of a tough District 5-6.
And they’ll have to do it without offensive stars Carson Lott, David Ames III and Bridger Taylor. In their place the Grizzlies have a strong group led by one of the best offensive lines in the state.
Across town head coach Pete Molino has got something building at Idaho Falls. After winning just one game over the previous two seasons, the Tigers won four in 2016 and made an appearance in the first round of the state playoffs.
With most of their starters returning the Tigers are looking to improve on a realtively-successful 2016.
At Blackfoot, head coach Stan Buck must replace several skill position players, most notably three-year starting quarterback Pacen Hayes. Talent is rarely lacking in Blackfoot, and the Broncos have an experienced offensive line, but finding a game managing quarterback will be the key for the Broncos.
At Pocatello, head coach Dave Spillett is looking for more success in year two at the helm of the Indians. Pocatello won just three games in 2016, two of those were against district opponents.
Century took its lumps in 2016. A season removed from a state semifinal loss, the Diamondbacks won just one game in 2016, a season opening 7-0 win over Burley. Travis Hobson is not familiar with losing, so expect the Diamondbacks to bounce back behind a balanced offensive attack.
The unknown in the district is Preston. The Indians won two games in 2016, one against Ogden (Utah) and the other was over Century. Head coach Nick Hyde and his squad can always be a spoiler, especially for teams that have to make the trip into Franklin County.
Coach: Stan Buck, 26th season
Last year: 8-4, lost 40-7 to Bishop Kelly in semifinal of 4A tournament
Returning starters: two on offense, three on defense
Season outlook: If you’re Stan Buck, it’s not all about the championships, wins and losses.
Instead, Buck — going into his 26th season at Blackfoot — says coaching is about developing players and “appreciating the little moments”.
“It’s the little moments during practice,” Buck said when asked why he continues to coach the Broncos. “That’s the biggest thing for me now: you don’t always have to win to have fun. It’s sometimes about the excitement of (coaching) each individual.”
Buck may be consistent at the helm for the Broncos, but high school sports never are.
With only five returning starters, Stan is in a similar situation as his brother, Mitch, the head coach at Madison.
Both will have to rebuild with just a few returning starters. While the Bobcats will try and utilize speed on the field, the Broncos have a different gameplan.
“What we want to be is the most physical team on the field,” Stan Buck said. “When you’re physical, it give you opportunity.”
The Broncos will look to rebuild by finding playmakers for left-handed quarterback Rayce Shelley, who looked sharp during Wednesday’s practice.
Blackfoot will utilize a two-back, multi-base offense, but Buck said the difference maker in 2017 will be if it can find playmakers around Shelley.
“We expect to be in the hunt for the playoffs,” Buck said.
Impact players: Quarterback Rayce Shelley, Sean Clarke, offensive tackle Swayd Bayley, Aric Bail
Keys to success: Playing “clean” football and finding a playmaker. Coach Stan Buck said the key for the Broncos will be keeping drives going by protecting the football and finishing drives with a playmaker. Senior quarterback Rayce Shelley looked sharp during a Wednesday practice, but it’s now Buck has to fill pieces around him. Look for the southpaw (Shelley) to throw a few touchdowns this year if Buck succeeds.
8/25: @Snake River (7 p.m.)
9/1: @ Hillcrest ( 7 p.m.)
9/7: @ Century (7 p.m.)
9/15: vs. Madison (7 p.m.)
9/22: vs. Rigby (7 p.m.)
9/29: vs. Idaho Falls (7 p.m.)
10/6: @ Skyline (7 p.m.)
10/13: @ Preston (7 p.m.)
10/20: vs. Pocatello ( 7 p.m.)
Idaho Falls Tigers
Coach: Pete Molino, fourth season
Last year: 4-5, lost in first round of playoffs 42-7 to Skyview
Season outlook: Over the past three seasons Idaho Falls head coach Pete Molino has had something building. After recording the most wins in the last three seasons and making an appearance in the 5A state playoffs, the Tigers are hungry for more.
All of the Tigers offensive success will be in the hands of junior quarterback Cannon Thompson. After missing part of the season last year with an injury Thompson returns to run the Tigers new offensive attack, but he will have plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Senior running back Todd Payne and junior Cameron Conrad will share the load in the backfield. Seniors Noah Hillam, Gavin Shelley and Payton Powell will be the downfield threats. And upfront the Tigers boast a lot of experience.
“We are very experienced on offense,” Molino said. “We have lots of depth at the skill positions and our offensive line will be very strong.”
Getting all of those experienced players to get on the same page from the start of the season is going to be the key for the team.
The defense was the strength of the Tigers in 2016 and that again should be the case this season. Six of the Tigers front seven returns this season, and Molino expects the defense to fast and aggressive.
The Tigers open the season at home against Bonneville in a game that feature to up and coming programs.
Idaho Falls is talented enough to play spoiler in District 5/6 this season, but the expectation is for the team to return to the playoffs again this year. If the team picks up the new offensive system quickly and plays solid defense the expectation of the playoffs is not out of reach.
Returning starters: Molino said most of Tigers’ starters are returning. Didn’t clarify how many exactly.
Impact players: Defensive lineman Todd Payne, quarterback Cannon Thompson, running back Cameron Conrad, linebacker Michael Miller, tight end/defensive lineman/linebacker Carson Fugleberg
Keys to success: Pressuring the quarterback and finding an offensive threat.
8/25: vs. Bonneville (7 p.m.)
9/1: @ Madison (7 p.m.)
9/8: vs. Jerome (7 p.m.)
9/15: @ Pocatello (5:30 p.m.)
9/22: vs. Skyline (7 p.m.)
9/29: @ Blackfoot (7 p.m.)
10/5: vs. Preston (7 p.m.)
10/13: vs. Hillcrest (7 p.m.)
10/20: @ Century (8:15 p.m.)
Coach: Scott Berger, ninth season
Last year: 12-0, 4A state champs
Returning starters: Six on offense, five on defense. Lost top QB, WR and defender to graduation.
Season outlook: After a perfect season capped off by the 4A state championship Skyline head coach Scott Berger and his staff are looking to repeat last season’s success. Looking at the skill position players lost in Carson Lott, David Ames III and quarterback Bridger Taylor one could assume the Grizzlies would fall off. Instead they reload. Senior Kyler Morgan will be the feature back in the Grizzlies high powered rushing attack, and senior Dylan Bialas will take over under center for an offense that averaged 46 points per game last season.
“It’s going to be hard to repeat what we did last season offensively,” Berger said. “But we have a very good offensive line and our rushing attack will be very exciting.”
The offensive line is loaded with experience as Dylan Kassa, Marley Garcia and Daniel Helsley lead the group.
Defensively the Grizzlies will be very good. Helsey will again be a force on the defensive line and linebackers Carter Josephson and Nick Layland will be looked upon to make big plays from the linebacking corps.
The Grizzlies begin their title defense on Aug. 25 when the take on Hillcrest at Thunder Stadium. They then play six straight homes games including the 53rd Emotion Bowl on Saturday, Sept. 23.
Skyline should again be the favorites in District 5-6, but Idaho Falls is improving and Blackfoot is a perennial power in the conference. The unknown will be the teams from District 5.
“We know we are going to have the target on our backs each and every week,” Berger said. “Our kids know this is a new year and we are going to face different challenges, but we will be ready for our opponents’ best every time we take the field.”
Impact players: Left tackle Dylan Kaasa, OL Daniel Helsley, running back Kyler Morgan, cornerback Tyler Burton
Keys to success: Run the ball, run the ball and … run the ball. The Grizzlies have six seniors on the offensive line who all have experience at the varsity level, per offensive coordinator Gregg Baczuk. With arguably one of the strongest lines in the conference, The Grizzlies offensive production falls on the shoulders of senior tailback Kyler Morgan.
8/25: @ Hillcrest (7 p.m.)
9/1: vs. Rigby (7 p.m.)
9/7: vs. Preston (7 p.m.)
9/15: vs. Bonneville (7 p.m.)
9/22: @ Idaho Falls (7 p.m.)
9/29: vs. Century (7 p.m.)
10/6: vs. Blackfoot (7 p.m.)
10/13: @ Pocatello (8:15 p.m.)
10/20: @ Madison (7 p.m.)