With seven weeks remaining in the regular season, it would be premature to call it a league championship game.
Yet Friday’s Hoquiam at Montesano football game fully merits the designation as a showdown of considerable importance.
The eighth-ranked Grizzlies (2-0) and the defending league champion and sixth-rated Bulldogs (1-1) will collide in an Evergreen 1A League opener scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow at Jack Rottle Field.
Much of the drama regarding the Evergreen 1A race will be played out on the first week of league competition. Two other teams tabbed as possible contenders, Elma (0-2) and Tenino (2-0), will face off Friday at Tenino’s Beaver Stadium.
This will also be the opening week of the Pacific League season, with Ocosta (1-1) at Willapa Valley (2-0) and North Beach (1-1) at Naselle (2-0)
Aberdeen (0-2) will meanwhile continue non-league play, hosting erstwhile Evergreen 2A rival Centralia (0-2) at Stewart Field.
Other non-leaguers on tap Friday include Winlock (0-2) at Raymond (0-2) and Taholah (0-2) at Lummi.
The Wishkah at Lake Quinault non-leaguer scheduled for Saturday has been canceled due to a shortage of healthy Quinault players. South Bend has a bye this week.
The early scheduling of this much-anticipated contest was determined by a semi-blind draw, according to Montesano athletic director Tim Trimble. While some traditional rivalries (such as Montesano-Elma) were reserved for the final week of the season and tweaks were made in other possible scenarios to avoid competitive or travel imbalances, the rest of the league schedule was determined by a drawing.
Hoquiam coach Jason Ronquillo is hopeful that the timing will be beneficial for his club, in that the Grizzlies could ride the momentum from a pair of 49-point scoring outputs against 2A Centralia and Aberdeen. Montesano coach Terry Jensen, however, was cryptic when asked if either team had an advantage by playing this early in the campaign.
“I think the team that plays the best on Friday will benefit most,” he replied.
The Grizzlies enjoy a significant advantage in experience and is one of the few Montesano opponents this season that can surpass the Bulldogs in team speed.
“Well, the only team that has stopped them so far has been themselves with penalties,” Jensen noted. “They are a complete team — experience, speed, size and playmakers. They do a lot of things really well, but probably the biggest concern is their big-play capability. They have several players who are playmakers — it’s not just one guy.”
While running back Nolan Hoiness received the Most Valuable Player Award from last week’s 49-6 conquest of Aberdeen, wingback Paul Girts and quarterback Evan Erickson also made big plays in that game — and running back Drew Bravos would have joined them had not his long TD run been nullified by a penalty.
Tradition definitely favors Montesano. The Bulldogs haven’t lost a league game since 2005 (when they fell to Elma) and Hoquiam hasn’t beaten them since 2003. Although Montesano and Hoquiam finished 1-2 in the Evergreen 1A standings last season, the Bulldogs controlled last year’s league match-up every bit as convincingly as the 34-0 score suggested.
“What scares me about Montesano is their speed on defense and their ability to get to the ball quickly,” Ronquillo said. “And their last two games, their passing game has been very efficient.”
The latter is orchestrated by senior quarterback Matthew Jensen, who has passed for 348 yards in two games. Ben Ohashi has been his favorite target, with Elliot Mendenhall and Tucker Ibabao dividing the ball-carrying chores.
Ronquillo was generally happy, aside from costly penalties, with his team’s showing against Aberdeen. He cited Hoiness, Alex Munoz and D.J. Cox for particularly solid outings.
In contrast, Jensen was emphatic that the Bulldogs need improvement from their performance in a 28-25 loss to Cascade Christian last Saturday.
“They had something to do with that (showing), but we had a lot to do with that,” the Monte coach said. “We had 17 2nd-and-long situations offensively, gave up over 200 yards rushing and only converted one of four conversions after we scored. We need better execution and production out of all three phases.”
After two weeks of being outrun by Class 1A Montesano and Hoquiam, Aberdeen will be facing an opponent literally and figuratively its own size on Friday.
Centralia, a 49-13 loser to Hoquiam in its season opener, boasts a huge front line but isn’t nearly as quick as the Grizzlies or Bulldogs. Aberdeen coach Terry Dion acknowledges that his club matches up better with the Tigers.
“I expect a lot of power football and a little bit of mid-line dives,” Dion said of Centralia. “They’re huge, a very big team. They don’t have the speed that Hoquiam or Montesano has, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some skilled athletes. They’re more power-based than speed-based.”
The Tigers are coming off a 22-21 loss to Washington of Parkland in which the Patriots scored a touchdown and a 2-point conversion with 37 seconds remaining. Centralia’s Justice Tasby rushed for 120 yards in that contest.
Aberdeen’s Bryceson Talley and Filipo Cournoyer ran effectively at times against Hoquiam, but Dion is concerned about another aspect of the game.
“We have to increase our passing efficiency,” he said. “We need to start converting on passing situations.”
Starting quarterback Veek Cheema sustained a bruised collarbone in the second half against Hoquiam. While Dion said Cheema probably will be available against Centralia, he indicated that there will be competition for the QB job, with junior Austin Kerrigan a possible starter.
Talley and Chase Johnson received the Bobcats of the Week award. Dion said Johnson played “the best game I have seen from an offensive lineman in my three years at Aberdeen” against Hoquiam.
Already considered an Evergreen 1A contender, Tenino raised some eyebrows with a 55-28 conquest of Class 2A Washougal (which had won its opener, 50-0) last week.
The experienced Beavers were bolstered by the transfer of quarterback Mac Shaw, a second-team all-leaguer last year at Rainier who threw for 460 yards against Washougal. His presence has enabled Devante Harris, Tenino’s QB from a year ago, to demonstrate his talents as a runner and receiver.
Elma has moved the ball well in each of its first two games, but has experienced difficulty finishing off drives. The Eagles amassed nearly 700 yards of total offense in losses to Hockinson and Eatonville.