While there are some important – and intriguing – league games this week, it’s a nonleague Greater Spokane League game that everyone is talking about headlining the schedule.
The annual “Battle of the Bell” doesn’t mean anything toward postseason play, but it’s a rivalry game unparalleled in the area, with a five-figure crowd expected at Albi Stadium on Friday night.
Add in two of the most dynamic players in the GSL and it’s a recipe for a whale of a ballgame.
Game of the Week
Mt. Spokane (3-0, 0-0) vs. Mead (2-1, 1-0), Friday, 7:30 p.m. (at Albi Stadium): This game, featured as part of the national “Great American Rivalry Series,” will be watched not only across the state, but around the country.
“It can be a distraction,” Mead coach Benji Sonnichsen said of all the attention and drama surrounding the rivalry. “But it can be a big motivation.
“Our team is pretty dialed in. I think we’re ready to play a big game this week.”
Mt. Spokane coach Terry Cloer tried to play down any added significance, but conceded that it’s a big game.
“Both teams are good football teams,” he said. “And so I think that always lends itself to make it a little bit more fun. But you know, I think that’s the typical, you know, it’s been pretty typical for last few years.”
Cloer added that Albi Stadium should be rocking.
“It’s one of the few nights that Albi has that its size is a plus, you know? Other nights when there’s not that many people there, it’s like a cement dungeon.
“It’s one of the few nights that it actually gets to show its size and that its size is a good thing.”
For the Wildcats, Kannon Katzer’s show finally goes prime time.
So far, Mt. Spokane has played in relative obscurity, playing road games in Montana and Sandpoint sandwiched around a game against Moses Lake at Albi.
Regardless, it’s earned them a No. 3 ranking in state 3A.
Katzer leads the region in rushing, with 828 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground, and has added a receiving and return TD for good measure.
All this despite being lifted early in the third quarter in each of his three games in favor of backups getting playing time in blowouts.
With five scores of more than 50 yards, he’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
When asked how to stop Katzer, Sonnichsen had one word.
“Team,” he said. “It’s all about team and being unselfish.”
But Katzer’s not a one-man show.
Junior quarterback Jeter Schuerman is growing into a leadership role. If the Panthers stack the box keying on Katzer, Schuerman has the ability to go over the top to a number of other threats, including senior slot Tommy Madill and senior wideout Jose Alvarez-Renteria, who has catches in all three games.
“It starts with our blocking,” Cloer said. “We’ve been really great blocking at the point of attack. If you look at (Katzer’s) three touchdown runs, long runs that he had last week, he was untouched on all three of them.”
On the other side, Mead averages almost 35 points per game and uses a balanced attack to get there. Quarterback Ryan Blair is the leader, though, and he uses his right arm to benefit the Panthers’ attack.
Blair went 16 of 26 for 192 yards last week in Mead’s win over Lewis and Clark. He had three touchdown passes, including a laser into double coverage in the back of the end zone to Kolby Blackler that had all the vision and touch of a Division I signal-caller and put the Panthers up 20-3 just before intermission.
“I just knew that my guy Blackler, he’s tall at 6-3, just throw it up to the back of the end zone,” Blair said. “I know he’s gonna come down with it.”
Blackler’s not even Blair’s favorite target. That mantle belongs to Evan Wiersma, who has 14 catches for 247 yards and five TDs this season.
“The way our team is built, we have a lot of unselfish kids,” Sonnichsen said. “They play for each other.”
If the Wildcats sell out to shut down the passing game, that will open lanes for junior tailback Caleb Shawen, who has rushed for 337 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s a pretty dang good back,” Sonnichsen said of Shawen. “You know, he’s a coach’s kid. He knows what he’s doing.”
“We feel like our front seven is capable to slow down the run and take away what they want to do there,” Cloer said. “And the guys in the back end gotta focus and do their jobs as well.”
So should we expect an offensive showdown? Not so fast, Cloer said.
“A lot of years this game comes down to (defense) – like last year it was 13-10 – and there’s been a lot of years the defenses step up. With the energy that the stadium brings, defenses have ability to rise the occasion as well.”
Even though the results won’t help either team reach the postseason, it should be one of the best games in the GSL all season and one the schools will talk about for a long time.
“The whole state – and even nationally – it’s being recognized for the incredible rivalry it is,” Sonnichsen said. “I think that’s something special.”
DN: MtS 35-31; SA: Mead 38-35.
Best of the rest
Central Valley (3-0, 1-0) vs. Lewis and Clark (1-2, 0-1), Friday, 5 p.m. (Albi): CV’s Bears used a balanced offense and stingy defense to knock back a game Ferris squad last week and bring a No. 8 state 4A ranking into the contest. LC’s Tigers saw the season debut of last year’s leading rusher, Keani Guthmueller (14 carries, 50 yards), in a loss to Mead.
DN: CV 31-14; SA: CV 24-17.
Shadle Park (2-1, 0-0) at Gonzaga Prep (2-1, 1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.: The Shadle Park Highlanders got a 40-yard field goal by Camden Harlow with 3 seconds left to edge Cheney last week and have been competitive in all three games. G-Prep bounced back after its loss in California and churned out 420 rushing yards against University.
DN: GP 38-21; SA: GP 30-7.
Ferris (2-1, 0-1) at University (0-3, 0-1), Friday, 7 p.m.: The Ferris Saxons took one on the chin against CV last week, but hung tough until a late interception sealed it. They’ll look to get back on track against a Titans team that has struggled to score (10 points per game) or defend (37.3 points against) for coach Kaleb Madison.
DN: Fer 28-10; SA: Fer 27-16.
Deer Park (3-0, 1-0) at Riverside (3-0, 1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.: An important showdown in the Northeast A League. Both come in unblemished and with a league win. Deer Park has an impressive resume, with convincing wins over 2A East Valley (35-7) and State 1A runner-up Newport (34-7) last week and the league’s top running back in Matthew Jorgensen. The Rams have beaten a pair of smaller Idaho schools and struggling Freeman.
DN: DP 31-17; SA: DP 26-21.
North Central (0-3, 0-0) vs. Rogers (0-3, 0-0), 7 p.m. (Albi): Even though this is a battle of 3A teams, it doesn’t count toward their league record since the pair face each other twice this season. NC got a big rushing day out of Kade Garvey (198 yards, three TDs) in a 47-28 loss to East Valley last week. The Pirates are still looking for their first points of the season following a 47-0 loss to Idaho 3A Timberlake.
DN: Rog 12-10. SA: NC 20-8.
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