Last year’s Hoquiam-Montesano football game was advertised as an Evergreen 1A League championship showdown — and a possible changing of the guard within the circuit.
The first part of that billing proved to be accurate. By rolling to a 41-14 triumph, Hoquiam ended Monte’s 40-game league winning streak and kick-started its eventual unbeaten Evergreen season.
The long-term implications of that outcome turned out to be less definitive. Hoquiam was eliminated by state poll leader King’s in the opening round of the state playoffs. League runner-up Montesano upset King’s the following week and went on to capture the state 1A championship.
With both graduation-ravaged teams struggling a bit in non-leaguers, it would be highly premature to label this year’s meeting as a league championship contest. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of potential postseason implications on the line when the Bulldogs (1-1) and Grizzlies (0-2) collide in an Evergreen 1A League opener scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Hoquiam’s Olympic Stadium.
This will be the opening week of league play for many Evergreen 1A and Pacific 2B teams.
Coming off its decisive victory over Hoquiam, Aberdeen has two more non-leaguers on tap before launching its Greater St. Helens 2A League campaign next month. The Bobcats (1-1) travel to Centralia on Friday.
The Harbor rivals enter this year’s contest with several question marks, some of them health-related.
Ace Hoquiam running back Devin Kelly injured a shoulder in the Aberdeen game and, according to head coach Rick Moore, is considered doubtful for Friday’s game. Hoquiam’s coaching staff is contemplating the reshuffling of backfield personnel to accommodate Kelly’s possible absence.
Montesano junior running back Anthony Louthan, who had been feared lost from four to six weeks with a high ankle sprain, returned to practice this week. Bulldog coach Terry Jensen said a decision on Louthan’s status will be made today. Still sidelined are two key defensive lineman, Hutton Napier and Jeff Varness.
The Bulldogs are coming off a frustrating 21-7 loss to Cascade Christian in which three turnovers led to all of the Cougars’ scoring.
Jensen noted that Monte’s six turnovers in two games represent more than half the team’s total of 11 in 14 contests last year.
“The bottom line is you will not be successful turning it over three times or more a game against quality teams,” the veteran Bulldog coach emphasized. “On top of that, we struggled with the offensive communication of the plays to our players. Defensively, we did play well enough to win. Cascade Christian didn’t turn the ball over and all three of ours led to touchdowns for them. I felt our offense let our defense down.”
Despite the turnover bug, the Bulldogs were able to hold off a much bigger Aberdeen team in their opener and remained competitive against state-ranked Cascade Christian last week.
“They’re quick as usual, efficient and solid up front,” Moore said. “Their only chink has been turning the ball over a little more than usual.”
After a promising offensive start in a 36-22 loss to Centralia, the Grizzlies struggled to find holes against Aberdeen — a situation Jensen attributed to a difficult match-up against the bigger Bobcats.
“We were impressed with their team speed,” the Monte coach said. “Defensively, they are flying around trying to disrupt offensive rhythm.”
Moore also described his team’s overall defensive effort last week as “pretty solid,” although he was less impressed with the offense and special teams. He cited Kenny Huffman, Kenny Wakefield and Jerod Steen for strong performances.
The Grizzly coach is unfazed by facing a major league rival this early in the season.
“I don’t mind this early match-up,” Moore said. “I think it’s going to force us to find out where we’re at in comparison with the upper echelon of the league.”
The Bobcats won last year’s meeting with their erstwhile league rivals last year, 28-21, at Stewart Field.
Both teams appear to be on the upswing, with Centralia winning its first two starts under new coach Matt Whitmire.
Jovany Almanza rushed for 161 yards and veteran quarterback Joe Blaser passed for 152 in a 58-32 win over Washington of Parkland last week.
“Centralia has some explosive talent on offense,” Bobcat coach Terry Dion said. “Their QB is a dynamic athlete with a great arm. He throws exceptionally well on the run. They have a very quick running back and real good size up front.”
Keeping track of Blaser and staying with receivers on deep routes will be two of Aberdeen’s priorities Friday.
Dion had few complaints, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, about his team’s performance against Hoquiam.
Quarterback Veek Cheema, the game’s Most Valuable Player award recipient, received Aberdeen’s offensive honors in that game. While noting it was difficult to single out one defensive player, Dion said senior lineman Cory Mays earned the Defensive Player of the Week award.
Although both teams enter the game with 0-2 records, the Tenino-Elma Evergreen 1A League opener at Elma’s Davis Field matches two clubs that have been mentioned as potential playoff contenders.
After playing Class 2A Hockinson tough in its season opener, the Eagles were plagued with turnovers in a 28-19 loss to Eatonville last week.
Rebuilding somewhat from heavy graduation losses, Tenino lost to Class 2B power Raymond, 27-21, and Class 2A Washougal, 28-7.
Saturday’s Lake Quinault-Wishkah game will be the first of two meetings of the Harbor 1B rivals in a four-week span.
Taholah will make its home debut Friday against perennial state power Lummi.