The rekindling of two rivalries — one of them long dormant — highlights the first week of the prep football season.
Aberdeen and Montesano will collide in football for the first time in 82 years Friday night at Montesano’s Rottle Field. Erstwhile Evergreen 2A League rivals Hoquiam and Centralia clash in a non-leaguer the same night at Olympic Stadium.
Friday night’s slate, in fact, will be entirely composed of non-league openers involving little if any travel for area clubs. The only Twin Harbor teams playing road games are Aberdeen (to Montesano) and South Bend (to Willapa Valley), who face less than backbreaking trips.
Other Friday night contests include Hockinson at Elma, Tenino at Raymond, Toutle Lake at North Beach and Neah Bay at Taholah. All kickoffs are scheduled for 7 p.m.
On Saturday afternoon, Ocosta makes the long journey to Concrete, while Lake Quinault faces Evergreen Lutheran at Mountainview High School in Auburn.
The Bobcats won the last meeting of these teams, 26-0. Since that game occurred in 1930, however, a revenge motive probably doesn’t rank high on Monte’s list of priorities.
Had this series been revived a year or two ago, Class 1A Montesano would have ranked as a heavy favorite over the 2A Bobcats. Comparative scores against Hoquiam, for example, favored the Bulldogs by 63 points last year.
The Bulldogs, however, sustained extensive graduation losses from that club and will be giving away considerable size to the Bobcats this season.
The contest shapes up as a battle between Aberdeen’s size and Monte’s speed — a characterization that first-year AHS head coach Terry Dion acknowledges is essentially accurate.
“The overall idea is to try to keep them away from the sidelines, so we can get at them,” Dion said.
Montesano coach Terry Jensen, in turn, is worried about Aberdeen’s advantages in heft and experience up front. The Bulldogs graduated nearly their entire offensive line.
“Our line is under construction right now for several reasons so, yes, it is a concern,” Jensen said. “We have had to move running backs into some line spots to compensate for missing or injured players. We cannot match their size on either side of the ball. We have to try to take advantage of our speed and quickness to overcome their advantages.”
In senior Matthew Jensen (the son of the coach), the Bulldogs return one of the area’s most talented and versatile quarterbacks. Running backs Elliot Mendenhall, Tucker Ibabao and Shad Rogers, although technically not returning starters, all saw considerable action for last year’s state 1A semifinal team and boast excellent speed.
While the Bobcats expect to rely heavily on the power running of 230-pound fullback Bryceson Talley, Dion said time of possession represents only half the battle.
“Controlling the ball is not enough. We want to score,” he emphasized. “It’s not like we’re not trying to score. We also want to generate big plays.”
While playing a smaller school often is a no-win proposition for the larger school, Dion doesn’t believe that applies to a perennial state power such as Montesano.
“Montesano has an outstanding program. They would do very well in any 2A league,” the Bobcat coach said. “I see it as a win-win.”
Although the Bulldogs have played their share of 2A foes in non-leaguers of late, Jensen believes there will be an added dimension to this contest.
“I think both sides will be pumped up,” he said. “The kids know each other from growing up and competing at the lower levels. It should be a lot of fun and I would anticipate a big crowd. It’s always more fun for the players when the stadium is full.”
The Grizzlies last played Centralia in 2009, when both were members of the Evergreen 2A Conference. This will be Hoquiam’s first contest with any member of that league other than Aberdeen since dropping to the 1A classification in 2010.
Hoquiam coach Jason Ronquillo said he sought a tough non-league foe to better prepare his club for what is expected to be a competitive Evergreen 1A League season.
Like Montesano against Aberdeen, the Grizzlies will be relying on their speed to combat a significant size disadvantage. Centralia operates from multiple sets and, according to Ronquillo, is “big up front.”
The Tigers return three starters on offense and four on defense from a club that went 5-4 last season. Junior quarterback Joe Blaser is one of the returnees.
While such backfield returnees as running backs Nolan Hoiness and Drew Bravos and quarterback Evan Erickson are receiving much of the attention, Ronquillo said he is equally encouraged by the preseason performance of an offensive line reinforced by the conversion of several players who had been starting at other positions.
“I’m just excited to watch our O line, because I think we have the best O line since I’ve been here,” he said.
Class 1A Elma opens its season at home against reigning Greater St. Helens 2A champion Hockinson. The Eagles, however, traditionally have enjoyed success against members of that league, opening last season with a rout of R.A. Long.
The consensus favorite in the Class 2B Pacific League, Raymond will receive what figures to be a strong early test from a Tenino club ranked among the top teams in the Evergreen 1A circuit.
The South Bend-Willapa Valley contest will be the non-league half of the league/non-league series between these Willapa Harbor rivals.
Another interesting opener will take place at Taholah, where the highly regarded Chitwhins will host reigning state 1B champion Neah Bay.