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  2014 'Milk Bowl' State Championship Preview

A look at the six Milk Bowl games to be played around the state this weekend.

By: Matt Harris
Published: 11/19/2014 11:06:07 PM
 

It all comes down to this. After waiting and anticipating the season throughout the summer months, enjoying the regular season games in relatively good weather, and now battling our way through the playoffs, the end is here. The 2014 'Milk Bowl' Football State Championships will end what has been a tremendous year. 

At three locations around the state, six schools will be crowned champions of their respective classifications. It's unfortunate that there are also six schools that will taste the bitterness of coming up short on high school football's biggest stage.

Once again, the United Dairymen of Idaho sponsor the 'Milk Bowl' State Championships and we greatly appreciate their support of Idaho's youth. Thank you United Dairymen of Idaho!

All six state championship games will be broadcast LIVE on IdahoSports.com GameStreams (which are also presented by the United Dairymen of Idaho, by the way). If you can be at the championship venues, PLEASE be there. It's always more fun to see the game in person and to cheer on and support the student-athletes from the stands. But if, for whatever reason, you can't make it to the game, you can join us online for the coverage of the game from your laptop, desktop, tablet, and phone! We will also have our action photographers at all six games taking pictures of all the action. Check out their work and order your favorite prints on the IdahoSports.com Galleries page.

CLASS 5A

Mountain View Mavericks (9-2) vs. Highland Rams (11-0): Friday, Nov. 21 at 6:00 p.m. (MST), Albertsons Stadium.

Mountain View - 91.83 (3rd of 22 teams)
Highland - 125.83 (1st of 22 teams)

Broadcasters: Troy Oppie, Vince Trimboli, Josh Byers

The theme of the 5A Milk Bowl is simple: It's the old dog vs. the new kid on the block.

That's seemingly the matchup as the Highland Rams storied program enters another state championship contest (their second straight) against title-match newcomer Mountain View.

An unseasonably heavy snowstorm in Western Idaho paralyzed the Treasure Valley. The Mavericks didn't seem to mind though.

Mountain View held Lake City scoreless until the fourth quarter en route to a 28-14 win over the Timberwolves and, in so doing, earning a spot in their first ever Milk Bowl State Championship.

The weather did cause some issues for both sides: a frozen field, snow everywhere, and ice patches on the grass made life difficult for both sides. As a result, Mountain View felt they should opt for the rushing attack more often. They did that to the tune of 406 rushing yards overall. In fact, the Mavericks completed just two total passes during the game. But they did what they needed to in less-than-desirable conditions to get the win over Lake City. 

The Timberwolves were seemingly stymied on offense once the Mountain View finally found their proverbial (and literal) footing. Jerry Louie-McGee played well once again, rushing for 153 yards on 26 carries, while also catching 10 passes for 64 yards. Connor Newby had 87 total yards and Michael Goggin completed 21-of-32 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. But the three interceptions thrown hurt Lake City immensely. The Mavericks defense put the normally explosive Timberwolves offense on ice.

With the Mavericks shift in offensive philosophy due to the conditions, Garrett Collingham was relied more upon for plays with his feet. He accomplished that goal by gaining 247 yards on just 18 attempts with one touchdown. However, Collingham left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury, making his status for Friday's game at Albertsons Stadium up in the air. If he doesn't play, can junior backup Joe Farris carry the burden of directing the offense? If Collingham does play, just how effective will he be? I'm sure that is the question in the minds of a lot of Highland fans right now.

The Rams, meanwhile, had their game with Rocky Mountain delayed by 24 hours as a result of the snowstorm. It was then delayed again until about 6:45 p.m. as the result of the two 1A semi-final games at Holt Arena going long.

One thing that both sides were thankful for? They didn't have to play outside in the frigid temperatures. (As a broadcaster, I have to agree with that too).

The Grizzlies had the football first and did what they've seemingly done all season long: quickly and effectively move the football down the field via the ground game. Highland received a high dose of Christian Blaser and Jake Roper to open up the contest, culminating in a 44-yd TD run for Blaser. The Rocky Mountain defense then stuffed the Rams near the 40-yard line on fourth down to give the football back to the Grizzlies.

That's when the Tamalii Campbell show began.

After Rocky Mountain went three-and-out, the Grizzlies punted to the speedy Campbell, who returned the ball 82 yards down the sideline untouched for the score. Campbell played a large role in Highland's success on Saturday, setting up the Rams with excellent field position. Eventually, the Grizzlies began to kick away from him to prevent any further damage on special teams.

The Grizzlies finished the first half with 198 rushing yards, by far the most against Highland at any point this season. In the second half, Rocky Mountain only gained 94 yards on the ground. 

Highland led by three points at halftime, 21-18. The game could have been in Rocky Mountain's favor had they converted on their three two-point conversion attempts. You have to wonder if that played a factor at all in the mindset of the Grizzlies heading into the second half. 

In the end, the Rams were too much for Rocky Mountain. Dakota Tillotson completed 17-of-27 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing six times for 24 yards and another score. Garret Christensen rushed 18 times for 100 yards and two touchdowns. But it was Campbell who made the difference in the end, helping to offset Roper's 129 yards rushing on 21 attempts. 

Highland head coach Gino Mariani told the Idaho State Journal after the game, "We've got one more against a very good Mountain View team who I think a lot of people overlook. We've got to be ready to play."

Mountain View seemingly flew under the radar until their 37-20 win over then-unbeaten Eagle on Oct. 24 to win the pod and receive an automatic berth to the state quarterfinals. They then fended off a feisty Madison Bobcats squad 27-19 despite eight Madison turnovers. In last week's win over Lake City, I'm not sure how many people gave the Mavericks a chance, but the number was certainly below 20%. But that's why we play the games on the field. The Rams are looking for their tenth championship in the IHSAA football-sanctioned era. 

A couple of things to watch for in this game: first, how the Highland and Mountain View offensive and defensive lines stack up against each other. The Rams were seemingly outsized by Rocky Mountain last weekend, but Highland held their own and got what they wanted on offense. What will Mountain View do differently to try to wreak havoc in the backfield. Also, watch for how special teams play, especially on returns, becomes a factor in this game.

One point that is talked about with regards to location: how will Highland fare outside of the comfy confines of Holt Arena? Of their 11 games this season, the Rams have just played three in outdoor stadiums (at Coeur d'Alene, at Ravsten Stadium, and at Thunder Stadium). All three times, the Rams were victorious. 

Will Highland get that elusive championship that they came so painstakingly close to winning last year? Or will Mountain View secure their first title in school history? The blue turf awaits on Friday night.

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CLASS 4A

Blackfoot Broncos (10-0) vs. Bishop Kelly Knights (9-2): Friday, Nov. 21 at 8:15 p.m. (MST), Holt Arena.

Blackfoot - 126.83 (1st of 20 teams)
Bishop Kelly - 101.00 (2nd of 20 teams)

Broadcasters: Matt Harris, Lance Taylor, Paul Kingsbury

The 4A Milk Bowl is a matchup of the current 4A state champion against the team that won the two state titles before them. And it's sure to be a great game on the turf at Holt Arena.

After going 3-6 last year, Blackfoot has ran the table this year on their way to a 10-0 record while re-establishing themselves as a premier team in the state after a down year. It's been a real team effort to accomplish that. But all of the eyes seemingly tend to fall on sophomore quarterback Pacen Hayes. 

Last season, Hayes was called up late in the year to the varsity squad. Head coach Stan Buck sent in the freshman late in the Broncos game at Madison, where Hayes promptly brought back a struggling offense to the cusp of a comeback win in the 'Buck Bowl'. That late-game appearence ushered in the Hayes era at Blackfoot.

It's been nothing but W's in the win column ever since. Every game that Hayes has started since that time (beginning with the Pocatello game on Oct. 25), the Broncos have not lost.

You can't forget about all of the other pieces to the puzzle for Blackfoot either. The lines have played extremely well, the receiving corps is among the best in Idaho, Damon Bodkin and Logan Averett have been solid each week with the football, and the defense is well-disciplined. While it takes everyone working together to be successful, the most scrutinized and most looked-upon position is at quarterback. And Hayes has handled it well.

Just ask Middleton how well the Broncos play together.

In their state semi-final game last week at Holt Arena, Blackfoot picked apart the Vikings in every aspect of the game en route to a 48-15 thrashing. Blackfoot led the game 48-0 with about eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter before the substitutes began to flow in. Hayes put on a dominating performance, completing 9-of-14 passes for 224 yards and five touchdowns. Cole Burt nabbed an interception and took it 60 yards to the house. Bodkin and Averett ran over the Vikings left and right. Josiah Hoskins grabbed an INT along with four receptions for 60 yards and a TD. Truly, this Blackfoot team is as complete as they come.

Because of Blackfoot's success this year, I don't know if you can say that Bishop Kelly has flown under the radar somewhat, but it's kind of felt like that. The defending 4A state champions are 9-2 this year, with their losses coming against Timberline and Skyview in the regular season. But they certainly have the tools to repeat as champions.

Despite losing 19 seniors (18 of them being starters), Bishop Kelly is back in state title game with a new wave of players intent on continuing a long-standing Knights tradition of gridiron success. 

Their run to the championship game for the second straight season and third time in five years was almost quashed last week by an upstart Rigby Trojans team. With the cold and snowy weather conditions that surrounded the Boise-area on Friday and Saturday, the game was moved from Friday at 7 to Saturday at 1, which made for BK's own version of the 'Frozen Tundra'.

The Knights absorbed the first punch from Rigby as the Trojans scored early in the second quarter on a Tyrel Phillips TD reception. But Bishop Kelly responded immediately with a Conner Charles 98-yd kickoff return for a touchdown to tie the game. Then Vincent Gallindo III shifted into gear and took over the game.

Gallindo III had rushing TD's of one and eight yards along with his duties as a linebacker which limited Rigby to 16 total rushing yards in the second half. Gallindo III finished with 117 yards rushing on 24 carries, supplementing Tyler Allumbaugh in the passing game. Allumbaugh finished with 103 yards passing on 16 attempts, but had a rough time in the backfield, losing 39 yards overall.

Hanging on to the football was certainly an issue, as one would expect in a cold, wet outdoor game. The usually sure-handed Ivan Torrez has two quick fumbles in the early moments of the contest. Fortunately for BK, their matchup against Blackfoot will be played indoors.

A few things to watch for in this game: first, how fast will Blackfoot start? Last week, a quick start propelled them to a huge victory. In some regular season games, the offense got off to a poor start before getting in gear and rolling to victory. In a game against a quality opponent like Bishop Kelly, a slow start could lead to an undesirable finish. Second, will the Knights be able to get to Pacen Hayes at all? Throughout the season, Hayes has been able to elude would-be tacklers and make plays in the collapsing pocket. His cannon of an arm makes it difficult on opposing defenses who want to pressure the QB without getting burned deep downfield. Also, watch for how the Knights' offensive line gives time for Tyler Allumbaugh to work. Last week was a bit of a struggle for Allumbaugh as he was brought down four times in backfield. Blackfoot was in the Middleton backfield all night long against the Vikings, begging the question of if Bishop Kelly provide enough time for Allumbaugh to operate? If they can, the Knights stand a good chance. 

This game is a rematch of the 4A State Championship from 2010, a 41-28 Bishop Kelly victory. These two teams have combined for the last five state championships and six of the last seven. The Knights would love the repeat title, which would be their third in five years. The Broncos are looking at three titles in four seasons if they can knock off BK. This should be a slobberknocker of a battle in the Dome on Friday night.

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CLASS 3A

Fruitland Grizzlies (9-2) vs. Snake River Panthers (10-1): Friday, Nov. 21 at 3:00 p.m. (MST), Albertsons Stadium.

Fruitland - 94.00 (3rd of 21 teams)
Snake River - 123.00 (1st of 21 teams)

Broadcasters: Vince Trimboli, Troy Oppie, Josh Byers

The 3A Milk Bowl is version 3.0 of the Fruitland/Snake River matchup. These teams have squared off twice before in the State Championship: in 2010, the Grizzlies hammered the Panthers 42-14 at Albertsons Stadium, while in 2011 Snake River got their revenge in a thrilling 35-33 victory over Fruitland at Holt Arena. So who will take the lead in the series?

Fruitland has been a staple of the 3A state tournament the last nine years. Since 2006, the Grizzlies have been a participant in the 3A Milk Bowl. Think about that for a second. Nine STRAIGHT years in the Milk Bowl. Pretty impressive to say the least. While they have not has as much success as their eastern Idaho counterparts in those contests (Fruitland has won only two state titles in that eight-year span prior to this season), they are a contender year-in and year-out. Credit to the coaching staff from the younger levels on up for creating a winning culture and a program that consistently wins games, along with the student-athletes who want to make it happen.

For the second straight year, the Grizzlies entered the state tournament not as the favorite from their own conference. Last year, it was Homedale as the top seed. This year, it was Emmett who many had pegged into the state championship. Both times, Fruitland came up with one-point victories to seal their state championship berth. Their road to the championship wasn't easy, however.

In the state quarterfinals, Fruitland fell behind 28-7 against Timberlake on the road before scoring 35 unanswered points to win 42-28. Then in last week's state semi-finals at Emmett, the Grizzlies special teams stepped up with big stops on a two-point conversion and an extra-point attempt to help seal a 13-12 win. The game was particularly focused on the run game for Fruitland, as QB Jerrod Seamons passed the ball on five times. But, when you have running backs such as Ben Hinatsu (16 attempts, 58 yards), Garrett Tipton (7 attempts, 64 yards, 1 TD), and Kennon Smith (12 attempts, 80 yards, 1 TD), the passing game isn't needed as much. We have seen, however, how well Fruitland can pass the football: it's how they got back into the game against Timberlake a couple of weeks ago.

There has been somewhat of a pattern in place since Fruitland began their streak of state championship game appearances. In 2006 and 2010 the Grizzlies made it to and won the state title game, a separation of four years in each instance. Well, this year is another four year cycle for Fruitland, if you are superstitious or believe in those kinds of things. Read into it what you want, but the pattern is there.

Snake River would LOVE to break that pattern and send the Grizzlies back to the SRV with their seventh championship game loss in nine years.

The Panthers have played lights out football almost all year long. It hasn't just been one facet of the game either: offense, defense, and special teams have all played excellent. As one coach told me after a game earlier in the year, "These are some of the strongest, biggest, fastest kids I've ever seen at the 3A level." 

Snake River's average win margin is over 30 points per game, including giving up about 10 points per game on defense each contest. That unit is lead by LB Damon Dance, a player who always seems to be in the right position at the right time delivering bone-crushing hits. He was consistently in the Shelley backfield during the state semi-final on Friday night. 

Offensively, the Panthers have opened up their attack this year, allowing for more passing in spread situations instead of Snake River's traditional 'run between the tackles' offense. They certainly have the horses to get it done as well. Sean Miller has played well at quarterback, thanks in part to the great running by Wyatt Vogler and Collin Bingham out of the tailback position. They have forced opposing defenses to stack the box against them, allowing Miller to throw the ball around the field a bit.

In last week's win over the two-time defending state champion Russets, Miller completed 6-of-9 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Vogler rushed for 140 yards overall and just would not be brought down, gaining at least five yards on every rushing attempt. The balance from the offense was impressive: they stuck to their system and didn't deviate from it, allowing great success throughout the game. 

Overall, the Panthers just looked to be a few levels above the Russets in most aspects of the game. As Shelley head coach Travis Hobson told the Post Register, "We just got flat-out beaten by a better team."

With the state championship matchup set, how do these two teams measure up against one another?

A few things to watch for include the balance on the Snake River offense because of Fruitland's run defense. The Panthers have rarely passed more than 14 or 15 times in a single game. Does their run-to-pass play-calling ratio change at all? I'm curious about that for Fruitland as well. We know that they have the capability to pass the ball effectively (as they did in the comeback win against Timberlake). Do they feel that passing the football allows them to attack the weak points of Snake River's defense? Another point to watch out for is running outside the tackles for Fruitland. The Grizzlies have strength on the inside, as do the Panthers, but one of the more underrated aspects of Snake River's defense is their ability to pursue opposing players out in the flats and on sweeps. In both games against Shelley this year, Snake River blew up almost every attempt by the Russets to run outside the tackles. Will it be more of the same against the Grizzlies on Friday? Another factor: fatigue. Which team will fatigue faster? Two-way players, especially on the line, can have their energy drained twice as fast because of their time spent on the field. How will the endurance on both sides hold up?

This should be a fantastic matchup on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium. Does Fruitland win their first state title since 2010 and, in so doing, extend the pattern of a championship every four years since 2006? Or does Snake River keep the 3A blue trophy in eastern Idaho for the seventh time in eight years, including the last four? I wouldn't expect anything less than a classic game.

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CLASS 2A

West Side Pirates (11-0) vs. Aberdeen Tigers (9-2): Monday, Nov. 24 at 6:00 p.m. (MST), Holt Arena.

West Side - 127.17 (1st of 21 teams)
Aberdeen - 95.17 (3rd of 21 teams)

Broadcasters: Matt Harris, Lance Taylor, Paul Kingsbury

The 2A Milk Bowl is an all District 5 affair this year. And, for the second straight year, it will be the final game of all six Milk Bowl's to be played around the state.

With weather causing all sorts of issues for travelling teams last weekend, Aberdeen's semi-final game vs. Orofino on Saturday evening was bumped to Monday night to allow the Maniacs to safely travel to Pocatello. After Aberdeen's 21-7 win at Holt Arena, the decision was made to hold the 2A Milk Bowl on the following Monday to allow for a fair amount of rest and preparation time for both sides. 

But hey, it's our own version of Monday Night Football, right?

Aberdeen will be competing for its first state title since 1978. West Side was here last year against Declo. These two South East Idaho Conference rivals know one thing though.

Neither side is going to give an inch. Especially after how their regular season matchup played out .

On Oct. 17 in Dayton, Aberdeen limited the Pirates to just TEN yards of total offense through three quarters of play. That's right, TEN. What was the score at that point? Zeroes.

In total, the Tigers held West Side to only 36 rushing yards. If you told me that West Side would only gain 36 yards on the ground and still win, I would have called you a liar. Aberdeen beat West Side in almost every statistical category imaginable in that game, except for the scoreboard in the end. So what was the difference?

Passing.

Something rarely seen from the Pirates in years gone by until this year, the aerial attack brought West Side back to life in that game, courtesy of the arm of Peyton Brown. The West Side offense clicked into gear at the last possible moment thanks to the aerial attack, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 33 seconds left on the clock, to take the win by a score of 12-8. West Side doesn't mind throwing the football around a little bit before re-introducing you to another healthy dose of power-run football. 

That trend continued against Grangeville at the Kibbie Dome last Friday. In fact, it was so surprising that our own Paul Kingsbury (who was at the game in Moscow) texted me during the game, asking, "Does West Side normally pass this much?". Indeed, it is another weapon in the arsenal of an otherwise powerful offense for the Pirates. Against the Bulldogs, Brown completed 12-of-15 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. But the real story of the game was the defense. Josh King returned a fumble 30 yards for a touchdown and Matt Turnbow snagged an interception and returned it 25 yards for a TD. A balanced effort helped lead West Side back to what they've worked for all season long: the state title game.

For Aberdeen, however, their game was close throughout and not decided until the waning moments of the fourth quarter. After playing to a draw for much of the game, Ethan Elliott ended the tie by punching in a 10-yard TD run with 8:12 left in the third quarter. In a back and forth contest, it appeared as if Orofino was ready to force another tie. But Aberdeen's defense dug deep and forced the Maniacs to punt.

That's when Hilario Carrillo kicked it into 'Beast Mode'.

Carrillo ran wild on the next Aberdeen drive which took up a lot of time off of the clock, as he scampered into the end zone on a 40-yard touchdown run to essentially seal the deal for the Tigers. Carrillo finished with 175 yards rushing on just 10 carries and was named the IdahoSports.com Player of the Game.

The win ensured two things: first, West Side would not have to travel north for a second straight week. Second, that both the Tigers and the Pirates would get another crack at one another.

Following Friday's win against Grangeville, Pirates head coach Tyson Moser told the Herald Journal, "We'll play whoever, but we'd like to play Aberdeen again. We don't feel like we played our best against them last time, so we'd like to give them another shot."

You can certainly bet that Aberdeen head coach Jeff Duffin agrees. Who wouldn't want a second shot on the biggest stage against the team that beat you in the regular season?

The Tigers' Hilario Carrillo told the Idaho State Journal, "There's a little bit of motivation behind us. We can't wait to play them". I'm fairly certain that most fans can't wait to see what happens on Monday night in the Dome.

A few things to watch for in this matchup: The effect of special teams on the final outcome. Aberdeen has a solid kicker while West Side opts to go for two more often than not. I've seen way too many games that have come down to a simple extra-point conversion. This could be one of them. Another key point to look for is the battle upfront between the offensive and defensive lines. West Side has the bigger kids overall, but size didn't seem to faze Aberdeen last Monday against Orofino. Finally, the secondary for both sides could be huge. While the Tigers run a lot, they do try to catch opposing defenses off guard from time-to-time. West Side's passing game will test Aberdeen's defensive backs when Peyton Brown decides to go through the air.

A rematch is always a fun game to watch, especially when it is two conference opponents going against each other. Can Aberdeen win their first ever State Championship? Or will West Side add another blue trophy to their already burgeoning football trophy case? It's Monday Night Football - Idaho style!

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CLASS 1A DIVISION I

Prairie Pirates (11-0) vs. Valley Vikings (10-1): Friday, Nov. 21 at 6:00 p.m. (PST), Kibbie Dome.

Prairie - 142.00 (1st of 23 teams)
Valley - 116.33 (2nd of 23 teams)

Broadcasters: Mark Browning, Rob Bafus, Sven Alskog

The 1A Division I Milk Bowl could be titled 'The Quarterback Bowl'. Two outstanding teams that are well coached, well stocked at all of the positions, and led by quarterbacks who are at the top of the 1A Div-I football statistics mountain this season. It will be a battle inside a battle as Valley's Ben Taylor and Prairie's Jake Bruner duel against each other on the Kibbie Dome turf on Friday night.

For Prairie, to say that they have steamrolled everyone so far could be understatement. Their closest game was two weeks ago, when they welcomed the Oakley Hornets to the Kibbie Dome and then promptly beat them by 30 points before sending them on their way. In conference play, no one came closer than 40 points to the Pirates. Not bad at all considering the White Pine League is one of the toughest conferences in the state. 

The boys from Cottonwood are in their first state championship game since 2008, a 32-22 win over Oakley in the 1A Div-I Milk Bowl. As any team they have faced this season can attest, the Pirates are good... VERY good. 

It all starts with quarterback Jake Bruner, a junior who has the ability to scramble and throw deep as necessary. He passed for three touchdowns and ran for another in last week's 62-28 win over conference-foe Kamiah in the state semi-finals. Most of Prairie's drives were short, purely because of the playmaking abilities of their offensive group, starting with Bruner. WR Rhett Schlader has excellent hands and is a great receiver all over the field for Prairie. He had three touchdown receptions against the Kubs last week. Hunter McWilliams and Calvin Hinkleman punched in touchdown runs in the first half as well. Prairie is balanced on offense and aggressive on defense, two key components to success in 8-man football.

Prairie was certainly aggressive against Kamiah. The Pirates led 44-14 at halftime, after trailing 7-0 early on. Once the floodgates opened up in the first half, there was no stopping Prairie. They piled on points faster than you can pile toppings onto an Idaho baked potato. The 28 points they gave up were the most anyone has scored on Prairie this season, but some of those came near the end of the game with the substitutes in.

The second half of 'The Quarterback Bowl' is Valley's Ben Taylor, an offensive machine in the Snake River Conference. If there was a touchdown scored at any time by the Vikings, you could bet that his name was imprinted somewhere on it. In last week's semi-final against Raft River, Taylor completed 18-of-35 passes for 415 yards, seven touchdowns, and an interception. He also gained 34 yards on the ground and score once more via the run. Of course, credit to his offensive line for giving him the time to accomplish those stats. 

WR Garrett Mussmann nabbed three of Taylor's seven passing touchdowns, as did WR Cole Lickley. Certainly, the Vikings can put points on the board quickly and often: they scored 60 points or more twice, 70 or more twice, and 80 or more once during the regular season. Valley's 54-24 win at Holt Arena avenged their earlier 38-32 loss on the road at Raft River... and ensured that the Trojans would exit the 1A Div-I tournament in the semi-final round for the third straight year. 

Interestingly enough, Valley's berth into the state championship marks the fourth time in three years that a 1A Division I team has made it to the state championship in their first season in 1A Division I (when dropping down from 2A). Grace did it in 2010, along with Butte County and Kamiah in 2012. You could call them 'newbies' to 8-man football, which they certainly are. However, they don't play like newbies. It's like they've been here before. Being able to emerge from a tough Snake River Conference is no easy feat. If the White Pine League is the toughest 1AD1 conference in the state, the Snake River Conference is either right there or close behind them.

A few things to watch for in this matchup: first, how will Prairie attack Ben Taylor? He has been the lynchpin to success offensively for Valley, especially through the air. Does Prairie put added pressure in the secondary to cover his receivers and force him to run? Or do they bring pressure up front and hope that he makes bad decisions? Conversely, what does Valley do to slow down Jake Bruner? Also, the rushing attack for both sides could be key. Which running backs will supplement the passing game by keeping the defense honest? Finally, the linebackers. With so much offensive prowess on both sides of the football, who will step up in a containment role and impose their will on the offense?

Will Valley win their second state title of the IHSAA sanctioned era in their first year in a new classification? Or will Prairie rise to the top of the proverbial 1A Div-I pile and reclaim the spot they vacated five years ago? I have a feeling that a LOT of points are going to be scored at the Kibbie Dome on Friday.

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CLASS 1A DIVISION II

Lighthouse Christian Lions (11-0) vs. Wilder Wildcats (9-1): Friday, Nov. 21 at 5:30 p.m. (MST), Holt Arena.

Lighthouse Christian - 134.17 (1st of 25 teams)
Wilder - 106.83 (2nd of 25 teams)

Broadcasters: Matt Harris, Lance Taylor, Paul Kingsbury

The 1A Division II Milk Bowl is all about speed. There is speed absolutely everywhere on the field for both sides. This ought to be a fun, entertaining, fast-paced game as a result.  

Lighthouse Christian is making their third championship game appearance in four years. While only coming away with the title once, the Lions have the upper hand in the 'championship-game experience' department over Wilder. And they certainly have the players to take them to the title.

Even without star running back Adam Taylor, who is out for the season with a broken arm, the Lions looked good against Council. Believe it or not, one of the Lions' best players in the semi-final matchup, Eric Silva, wasn't sure if he was even going to play in the game. He sprained his MCL in his knee the week prior against North Gem and told the Times-News, "It hurt pretty bad at the start, but once the adrenaline starts going it's fine."

He played like nothing had ever happened. Along with his brother Gage Silva, they combined for five touchdown receptions and three interceptions on defense to lead the way in the 33-26 win. 

One thing we learned about the Silva's at Holt Arena: when you're the reigning 1A sprint champion (Eric) and 1A hurdles champion (Gage) and you play football at the Dome, you become a very fast person on the turf. It was amazing to see the pull-away speed by both Silva's in the game. All four of the passes that Gage Silva caught went for touchdowns, an extremely efficient statistic.

Despite the Silva's success, the game was close throughout. It was game of momentum changes seemingly: Lighthouse Christian dominated the first and third quarters and Council manhandled the second and fourth quarters. In the end, crucial mistakes down the stretch by the Lumberjacks aided the Lions in their quest to return to the state title game. 

The state championship game is a place that Wilder hasn't even been close to in the last decade and half. Their last playoff appearance was 1998. But the Wildcats have already been turning heads this season, especially in the playoffs.

Wilder's only loss of the year came to Council, an 80-26 defeat. Other than that loss, Wilder has rolled everyone they've played. The Wildcats have scored 60 or more points three times, 70 or more points once, and 80 or more points three times. Even in 8-man football, reaching 80 points is an impressive feat. 

A lot of those points can be attributed to senior QB A.J. Castellanos. He is putting up unreal numbers night-in and night-out. On the year, Castellanos has passed for 1,924 yards and 30 TD's while rushing for 2,222 yards and 35 TD's. He has had eight or more combined passing and rushing touchdowns in a single game three times this year, including a 10 touchdown game against Garden Valley on Halloween. 

Castellanos rushed for 377 rushing yards against Carey last Saturday, while the Panthers as a team could only muster 177 yards total. 

He's not the only player that you need to watch out for either. Saul Rodriguez, Caulen Michael, and Oscar Puga can make you pay if you don't play lockdown defense on them. 

None of their success on offense is possible without blocking, however. Carey Panthers head coach Lane Kirkland said as much when he told the Times-News, "They blocked extremely well. We couldn't get off blocks, which was a huge factor."

Blocking is something that Lighthouse Christian did well at times in the Council game. There were moments where they struggled immensely at it however, with Council defenders smashing running backs to the turf in the backfield. The blocking will certainly have to be more consistent.

A few things to watch for in this matchup: first, how will Lighthouse Christian attempt to contain A.J. Castellanos? What do you do to slow down the high school senior that has over 4,000 yards of offense in one year? Second, can the Silva's repeat their performance against Wilder? A key in that may be their quarterback, Josh Fadness. At times, Fadness held onto the ball a bit too long and was brought down in the backfield. If he gets rid of the ball quicker or uses his feet to make plays, he and the rest of the offense could have a heyday. Finally, how much will turnovers play a role in the final outcome? Both defenses are too good to not force some sort of turnover in the game. The question becomes how will these turnovers affect momentum throughout the game, something that was very apparent in the large swings of momentum between Lighthouse and Council.

This one could literally be a track meet. Don't be surprised if individual or team state championship records are broken in this game: it certainly has the potential to happen. Will Wilder win their first football title since 1988? Or will Lighthouse Christian take the crown again? The championship game awaits. 



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