Parity in sports can be a beautiful thing.
Ask the Hillcrest, Sugar-Salem and North Fremont football programs: the last three remaining District 6 teams in this year’s state playoffs.
Following wins in their respective classifications Friday night, each team is embarking into uncharted waters: none of them have reached the state semifinal round in football in at least three seasons.
It’s no joke — getting out of the quarterfinal round has been proven tough for all three programs.
The Diggers, coming off a 41-0 win over Marsh Valley Friday night, has been bumped out of the semifinal round seven of its previous eight playoff appearances. They last made it to the playoffs in 2015, eventually losing to Emmett (the 2015 3A champion).
If your name isn’t “Shelley”, “Fruitland” or “Snake River,” chances are you haven’t gone far in the 3A state playoffs. Of the last 10 3A championships, those three teams have won a combined eight titles (Fruitland has won three, Shelley has won three and Snake has won two).
Fruitland has played in nine of the last 10 3A title games. If you go back into the 1990s and early 2000s, Snake River won seven of eight titles between 1995 and 2002 under coach Tom Harrison.
Sugar-Salem, which has never won a state title in football, is trying to end all those narratives.
“It started back when we lost that quarterfinal round to Fruitland, something we talked with these juniors and seniors,” Sugar-Salem coach Tyler Richins said Saturday by phone. “Everything we talk about: it’s about a championship.
“When you talk about those Snake Rivers and Fruitlands and Shelley teams, you see their tradition, their culture. They graduate 15-20 seniors every year and they just reload and reload. That’s what we want here and that’s where we’re heading and what we’re seeing take place, so hopefully we won’t have those down years,” Richins added.
Sugar-Salem’s faces Kimberly in the 3A state semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Holt Arena.
Hillcrest has waited longer, technically, to reach the semifinal round. The Knights — coming off a 21-17 win over Middleton Friday — haven’t made it the semifinal round since 2011. Adele’s single “Rolling in the Deep” was Billboard Magazine’s top song of the year.
“We just gotta keep doing what we’re doing,” Hillcrest quarterback Kyle Austin said Friday. “As cliche as it might sound: we just gotta keep prepping, watching game film, practicing hard. Coach (Kevin Meyer) does a really good job of keeping us from being too hot headed.
“He makes sure that in practice that we are doing everything perfect. We’ll come out being a little lazy, and not paying attention to detail, and he’ll get on us right then and be like, ‘Hey, that’s not what a state championship team does,’ and right there, we’ll be like, ‘you’re right coach, we gotta be better than that,’” Austin added.
North Fremont has waited the longest, finally getting over its “quarterfinals curse” Friday in a blowout 44-6 win over Nuclear conference opponent West Jefferson.
The Huskies haven’t been to the state semifinals since 1989. Current head coach Ben Lenz was playing for the Huskies. Chicago’s “Lookaway” was Billboard Magazine’s top song of the year.
“The coaches teach us to stay humble and stay hungry,” North Fremont senior quarterback Garrett Hawkes told the Post Register Friday, echoing a similar tone Austin had. “We are going to be facing some great athletes and some big teams, and as long as we play as a unit instead of individual athletes, we will go places.”
All three teams will preach a similar idea: “stay humble” or “don’t get ahead of ourselves” in the coming days.
But it’s hard to deny: the three programs are living history. It’s been over a decade, or longer (or forever) since any of these teams won a championship.