Luke O’Roark here — your least favorite sports writer.
”Ahh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Lukey. We secretly appreciate your work and—”
In District 6 football, we are down to three teams: Hillcrest, Sugar-Salem and North Fremont.
In a bold proclamation (that will most likely come back to haunt my soul), I think District 6 wins out this weekend. 3-for-3 — just like my 3-point field goal percentage during my youth league basketball career (I’m considered the poor man’s Steve Nash back on the east coast).
Anyway, this week should be fun. The 3A semifinal round has some tough matchups. Tough matchups that make other tough matchups look not tough.
We could also see some close games in 4A and 2A, too, as all three local teams are chasing championship hardware for the first time in decades/forever.
I’m here to break down each local game:
Hillcrest vs. Nampa, 7 p.m. Friday at Thunder Stadium
Listen, we know what the Knights are going to do. You know it. I know it. Hillcrest knows it. The other team knows it. Your nine year-old nephew knows it.
At this point in the year, no team/coaching staff is going to wake up Friday morning and be like, “You know what? Let’s run the freaking wildcat offense tonight,” after playing 10-straight games in the pistol or wishbone offense.
The Knights, regardless if teams stack the box or not, are going to run the ball mostly out of the strong-I formation.
(If — somehow — the Knights throw the ball 40-plus times at a frigid Thunder Stadium Friday, I’ll buy everyone reading this a slice of Lucy’s Pizza).
Following the injury of one of their better players, Jordan Neuerburg, seven weeks ago, the Knights have torn through opponents with a stout offensive line and dynamic playmakers like Oakley Hussey, Kyle Austin, Trae Henry, Josh Norman and Taylor Sloan. In a crowded backfield, its been difficult for other teams to key in on one runner, as each bring a different type of game speed.
The defense is also worth mentioning. With Brady Sainz back at the linebacker spot (alongside guys like Ed Carle, Kanon Young, Trevor Powell and Jordan Peterson), the Knights have allowed an average of just 12 points per game this season. Hillcrest’s points allowed per game is the lowest of any team left in the 4A playoffs (Nampa’s rounds up to 21 points; Vallivue’s is 26; Bishop Kelly’s is 15).
Since beating Skyline by a point on Sept. 28, Hillcrest has outscored opponents 189-37 en route to its first semifinal appearance since 2011.
One could argue their strength of schedule late in the season (four of the Knights’s last five opponents finished their seasons with losing records), but following last week’s 21-17, gutsy win over Middleton, it’s difficult to write off Hillcrest.
Simply put, Hillcrest is playing its best football without one of its best players.
It will host a Nampa team that has scored a combined 90 points over the previous two weeks. The Bulldogs also average more than 300 rushing yards per game, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Hillcrest didn’t allow more than 90 points until week six of the regular season.
I like Hillcrest’s defense in this one.
Hillcrest 28, Nampa 20
North Fremont vs. Grangeville, 6 p.m. (PST) Friday at the Kibbie Dome
The Huskies are trying to do something they haven’t achieved in 29 years: win a state title.
The last time they actually achieved that goal, Ben Lenz and Shannon Hill were playing on the team. They’re now on the coaching staff.
Coming off a convincing 44-6 win over Nuclear Conference foe West Jefferson a week ago, North Fremont is in the semifinal round for the first time since that 1989 championship team and will travel close to nine hours — and to another time zone — to play Grangeville in the good ol’ Kibbie Dome.
- Now, firstly, this is the time of year when the rubber hits the road. Every team left in the playoffs — whether its Declo, Coeur d’Alene or Salmon River — probablydeserves to be here. Every opponent a 2A team has from here on out will be solid (thanks to the new RPI system used for Idaho’s 2A playoffs). Grangeville is no exception.
The Bulldogs have won 10-straight, trying to avenge last year’s loss to Declo. They’ve even beaten a 4A team this year (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), all while averaging 41 points per game and scoring 410 total points in 10 games.
Their lowest scoring output: 26 points.
Yet, North Fremont is my choice this week.
Why? Well, firstly, it’s because I’m an idiot and pick these games on a dime.
”No you don’t, Luke...”
But really, it’s because this year’s North Fremont team is an athletic bunch that returns every starter from a year ago.
Quarterback Garrett Hawkes might — might — be the best athlete in District 6. The Huskies have shut out three opponents and allowed just six points in three other games. That’s just 18 points allowed in six games.
Grangeville will score more points North Fremont is used to, sure, but I’m still sticking to the hometown team.
- — Hate to be “that guy” but... not every team is as good as they say.
North Fremont 43, Grangeville 34
Sugar-Salem vs. Kimberly, 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Holt Arena
As I wrote on Sunday (if you don’t read the paper daily, shame on you), all District 6 teams are heading into uncharted territory. Especially Sugar-Salem.
While the Diggers have won multiple state championships across a plethora of sports, they have yet to win one in football.
And whether they actually end that title drought this year or not, I’m not sure. I’m actually not an oracle (shocker, I know).
But I do know that Sugar-Salem has one of its best teams in years. The already talented group in Sugar City added talented, and already well-known, receiver Gerohm Rihari during the offseason. Rihari was a Post Register first-team All-Area offensive playmaker with Bonneville before joining Tanner Harris and Sugar-Salem’s already loaded team this past summer.
What I’m trying to allude to: this Sugar-Salem team is loaded.
It’s had 13 different ball carriers and nine different receivers catch a pass this fall. Rihari is 10th and second in rushing attempts and receptions on the team, per Sugar-Salem’s official season stats through last week.
If anything, that stat shows how legit the Diggers are. I think they win in Holt Saturday evening.
Sugar-Salem 35, Kimberly 22