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IEL 4A football preview: League race a toss-up among Sandpoint, Lakeland, Moscow

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 28, 2019

There are only three teams in the 4A Inland Empire League, but that doesn’t make projecting the eventual champion any easier.

Theoretically, Sandpoint, Lakeland and Moscow each have a 33.3% chance and the reality is those percentages seem about right, considering how different rosters might look in October when the trio gets around to deciding the IEL pecking order.

“I think it is tight,” Lakeland coach Tim Kiefer said. “Last year it was pretty close. It kind of comes down to who comes in with a little momentum and who is healthy.”

Here’s a look at the three programs in projected order of finish. Two will earn state berths.

Bulldogs chase top spot: Sandpoint enters the second year under coach Ryan Knowles and the difference from last fall is obvious.

“All those veteran head coaches, when you talk with them, all say the second year is 10 times easier than the first,” said Knowles, the former Sandpoint and University of Idaho standout. “Last year, I’m trying to put together the roster, put stickers on helmets and mow the field. We’ve just made a lot of progress on the organizational side.”

The Bulldogs figure to be better on the field, too. Jeremy Thielbahr, a former Sandpoint great who guided Eastside Catholic to three Washington state 4A titles in seven years, is coordinating the offense.

Thielbahr has pieces to work with, including returning quarterback Jaxon Pettit, lineman Brandon Casey, who has committed to Montana, and running back Braden Kappen, a state track qualifier in the 100 meters.

Linebacker Tag Benefield was the league’s defensive MVP last season, linebacker Tyler Lehman is a two-time All-IEL selection and lineman Connor Hutchings earned first-team honors. Casey will see time on the defensive front.

Hawks plan return to playoffs: Lakeland is fully motivated after losses to Sandpoint and Moscow left the Hawks out of the 2018 playoffs.

The Hawks are transitioning from a Wing-T to a spread offense that should better suit their personnel, including returning quarterback Brandon Furey, slot back/cornerback Ezra Grigg, fullback Logan James and tight end Ammon Munyer.

“Brandon is 5-6, but I’m telling you he doesn’t play like he’s 5-6. He makes great decisions. He’s pretty impressive,” Kiefer said. “If a team wants to load the box and take away the run, we have some weapons on the outside. If they want to spread it out and cover us, we have the ability to run the ball.”

Other cornerstones are linemen Travis Derrick, All-IEL last season, and Johnny Sullivan, safety Colton Boettcher and cornerback Colin Bell.

Bears shoot for repeat: Moscow doesn’t plan on taking a step back after reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Quarterback Chad Redinger earned IEL Offensive Player of the Year honors as a sophomore. Receiving and/or running options include Logan Shears, Jonah Elliss, Lane Hanson, Brayden Decker and Ben Postell.

“He showed what he can do with his feet and his arm,” coach Phil Helbling said of Redinger. “He’s 5-9, 170 pounds, but he’s tough as nails.”

Shears (defensive back), Elliss (linebacker) and Kaden Kiblen (defensive line) were All-IEL selections last season.

“We’re at 28 guys, so we have to stay healthy,” Helbling said, “but I’ll take the guys we’ve got.”

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