Hopes are high for many of the Northwestern A football teams as the 2014 season starts today.
While Libby, Columbia Falls and Whitefish wait until tomorrow to kick off their seasons, Raymond, Alberta, travels to Polson to take on the Pirates tonight at 7.
The Columbia Falls Wildcats, a state semifinalist in 2013, return several key players and look poised to make another long run in the playoffs, but quarterback Luke May and the Whitefish Bulldogs are hoping for another return to the post season and a chance to dethrone the rival Wildcats.
Columbia Falls Wildcats
Head coach: Jaxson Schweikert
2013 record: 9-1 overall, 4-0 conference. Lost in state semifinals, 33-21 to Billings Central.
Key Losses: QB Jared Trinastich, the NW A Offensive co-MVP, all-state; Zach RB Darling, NW A Offensive co-MVP, all-state, WR/CB Alex Presnell, 1st team all-conference, all-state; S Josiah Osborne, 1st team all-conference, all-state.
Key Returners: WR Ty Morgan, 1st team all-conference, all-State; DT Spencer Ross, 1st team all-conference, all-state; LB Ike Schweikert, 1st team all-conference, all-State; C Blake Arneson, 1st team all-conference; G Garret White, 1st Team all-conference.
Key newcomers: RB Steven Lindsay, Jr.; RB Wyatt Green, So.
The skinny on the Wildcats: The 2013 Northwestern A conference champs were a win away from the Class A state title game and will look to pick up right were they left off in 2014. Although Columbia Falls lost the conference co-MVP’s in quarterback Jared Trinastich and running back Zach Darling, the Wildcats offense returns four offense lineman with all-conference accolades, including 1st-team selection center Blake Anderson. Senior WR Ty Morgan highlights the offensive returners and will look to improve his dynamic junior season where he caught 66 passes for 1,073 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Defensively, Columbia Falls welcomes back 2013 all-state selections DT Spencer Ross and LB Jake Schweikert. The duo will be joined by 2013 2nd-Team all-conference selection OLB Justice McManus. Together they will lead a stingy defensive unit that allowed just 12 points per game last season.
Coach Schweikert’s take: “We’re strong, we’re fast and we’ll be pretty solid this year. Our kids walked away pretty upset with themselves and they felt they kind of lost an opportunity last year, but a lot of those kids are back and have a chip on their shoulder. We spent a lot of time with our kids in the off season. We really still felt like our screen packages needed work so we put a lot of time at that and they’ve definitely improved so we’re excited about that.
“Our defensive line looks stout. We’ll be solid at stopping the run but it’ll be interesting to see the pass rush. We’re really trying to anchor down the other defensive end spot, but we have depth. With us, we’re two-platoon. So defensively, we run in a lot of defensive linemen.
“We have a chance to be pretty darn good this year if we stick to the process.”
First game: At Lewistown Saturday, at 1:30 p.m.
Head coach: Chad Ross.
2013 record: 8-3 overall, 3-1 conference. Lost in state quarterfinals 27-20 Belgrade.
Key Losses: WR/CB/KR Sean Foley, 1st team all-conference, all-State; CB Dave Rizzollo, NW A Defensive co-MVP, all-state; LB Calub Thilmony, 1st team all-conference, all-state; T Gage Smith, 1st team all-conference, All-State.
Key Returners: QB Luke May, 2nd-team all-conference; LB Jack Streibich, 2nd team all-conference; S Walter Holiday, 2nd team all-conference; S Brain FauntLeRoy, honorable mention all-conference; C Chaffin Ross, honorable mention all-conference; RB/LB Chris Park, honorable mention all-conference.
Key newcomers: DE/WR Jed Nangler, Jr.; LB/T Travis Catina, So.
The skinny on the Bulldogs: Whitefish lost one of its biggest play makers to graduation as Sean Foley won’t be returning kicks at Memorial Stadium this season, but the Bulldogs will welcome back the conference’s second leading passer in junior quarterback Luke May. May was 106 for 184 passing for 1,562 yards and 11 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. He also rushed for team-high 717 yards and nine touchdowns.
On defense, Whitefish intercepted 28 passes last season, returning two for touchdowns. Although 2013 Northwestern A defensive co-MVP Dave Rizzollo, who picked off seven passes last season, has graduated, the Bulldogs return four starters who earned all-conference accolades. Safeties Walter Holiday and Brian FauntLeRoy join linebackers Jack Streibich and Chris Park to lead a defense that gave up just 149 points last year and back to the playoffs to avenge their 27-20 quarterfinal defeat to Belgrade.
Coach Ross’ take: “We’re confident, we’re deeper than we’ve ever been and our numbers are really good. We’re just unproven. We have high expectations and we want to compete for four quarters. We’re coming in ready We’re further along (at this point) than last year because we put in the time over the summer. We just want to give ourselves a chance. We think we have the athleticism to compete with everybody so we’re just hoping to put ourselves in a good position to win some ball games.
“Last year we were good at producing turnovers. We hope to keep that up while cutting down on our penalties.”
First game: At Havre, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Head coach: Scott Wilson
2013 record: 5-4 overall, 2-2 conference. Lost in first round 27-20 to Hamilton.
Key losses: RB/LB Brady Hislop, 1st team all-conference, All-State; WR/S Cedrick Smith, 1st team all-conference, all-state; G Wyatt Jenson 1st team all-conference, all-state; QB Andrew Weltz, 2nd team all-conference.
Key returners: C Nick Marquardt, 2nd-team all-conference; LB Joe Gallatin, honorable mention all-conference; LB Matthew Rensvold, honorable mention all-conference; CB Hudson Smith, honorable mention all-conference; RB Jacob Clairmont.
Key newcomer: QB Tanner Wilson, So.
The skinny on the Pirates: Polson graduates it’s top two rushers in Andrew Weltz and Brady Hislop, but junior RB Jacob Clairmont should use his sophomore experience to fill in nicely. He carried the ball 82 times in 2013 for 267 yards and two touchdowns and his workload is expected to increase. As a freshman, Tanner Wilson caught 19 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns, but the Pirates will utilize his athleticism under center at quarterback.
The Pirates’ defense intercepted 13 passes last season, something they’ll look to build off of in order to improve on the 323-yard average of total offense they allowed in 2013.
Coach Wilson’s take: “I was pleased with how we did during two-a-days. We’re young so that we’ll be a true test for us — to see how they react.
“Our offensive line will be able to utilize their size and experience until we get the experience we need at some of our other positions
“Defensively, I like the intensity they bring in terms of rallying to the football. It’ll be a matter of trying to get through their reads and learning their keys. The whole goal here is to get through a couple games.
“We just want to play competitively — that’s just one of our goals every year. We want to make the playoffs and we want to get out there and compete.
First game: Home versus Raymond tonight at 7.
Head Coach: Neil Fuller.
2013 record: 1-8 overall, 0-4 conference.
Key Losses: QB/S Jared Winslow, honorable mention all-conference(QB) 1st-team all-conference (S); TE Josh Bowers, honorable mention all-conference; DT Tarasick Krisanov, honorable mention all-conference.
Key returners: DE Dalton Brown, RB/LB Zach Crace, C/DE Cooper Brown, G/DT Michael Curtiss, T/DT Austin Marshall.
Key newcomers: FB/LB David Winters.
The skinny on the Loggers: The 2014 season will be Libby’s final year of competition in Class A before it move down to Class B due to declining enrollment. The Loggers won’t go quietly. With one of the smallest rosters in the state, the hard-hitting Loggers are looking to make some noise in their final Northwestern A season.
All-state safety and star quarterback Jared Winslow has graduated, but the Loggers return 20 roster spots from the 2013 squad, highlighted by Honorable mention all-conference defensive end Dalton Brown.
Coach Fuller’s take: “We’re excited. We have about 40 kids out this year and they’re working hard every day. With our numbers, we don’t have the depth to overcome significant losses. Fortunately this year we have some depth at some spots where we have good athleticism.
“You’re always going to miss quality athletes like Jared (Winslow), but we’ve got a junior in Dominic Voorhies and he has been running the offense very well. We also have a great athlete in Brayden Thom starting on the defensive side of the ball.
“Cooper Brown, Micheal Curtiss and Austin Marshall are going be key for us this year. It’s easier to transition to a new quarterback when you have those three guys in the trenches.
“Defensively, we’ve changed our scheme up a little but and I think it fits our athleticism on that side of the ball.”
First game: Home versus Bonners Ferry (Idaho), Saturday, 7 p.m.