Mountain View readies for ‘underdog’ role in Highland semifinal matchup

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It sounds a bit odd to call a program with five straight state semifinal and three championships appearances in four years, including a 2016 state title, an underdog.

But that’s exactly what the Mountain View football team considers itself as going into its 5A state tournament semifinal match. It’s hard to blame the Mavericks for feeling that way when their opponent is defending state champion, Highland.

The Rams have the most state titles in the 5A classification since the Idaho High School Activities Association starting sponsoring the tournament in 1979.

No. 4 Mountain View (8-2) visits No. 3 Highland (9-1) at 8:15 tonight at Holt Arena in Pocatello.

“What we’ve really sold to the kids is we have nothing to lose,” Mountain View head football coach Judd Benedick said. “We’re not the favorite. We’re not picked to win. It’s not a home game and all that kind of stuff. We’ve told them there is no pressure on us. The pressure is on them. So we’re just going down to let it loose and let it rip.”

Benedick knows all too well the task at hand. During his 12-year tenure, he’s faced off against the Rams four times. In those four previous encounters, Mountain View has only gotten the better of Highland once.

The losses include the 2008 state semis when now New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Taysom Hill orchestrated a 35-7 win and in 2014 when the Mavericks were routed 56-21 in the title game. The Rams have beaten them by an average of 27.6 points per game.

However, the last time these two storied programs played each other, it was Mountain View blowing out Highland for a change. The Mavericks waxed the Rams 30-3 at Holt Arena during the 2016 quarterfinals on the way to their first state championship.

It’s still the only home playoff loss for Highland over the last six seasons.

“They are always good. That’s just a given,” Benedick said. “In my mind, they are the most historic and the team with the most tradition in the state of Idaho. They have just proven it year after year after year. So beating a program like that takes a special effort.”

But the two teams are much different now, particularly this season.

Mountain View has the state’s top scoring offense at 43.3 points per game. The Mavericks have scored at least 24 points in all but one game. The only game they didn't was in the 16-6 season opener against Rocky Mountain.

The Mavericks have averaged 50.3 points per game during their current six-game winning streak, which dates back to the middle of September.

Nonetheless, if anyone can stop Mountain View’s potent offense, it’s Highland. The Rams have the second best defense in the state.

They have only allowed more than 22 points in a game once this season, and that came in a very uncharacteristic 42-20 loss to No. 2 Coeur d'Alene on Sept. 21. But Highland is still giving up just 16.3 points per game.

The Rams are indeed the favorites, but the Mavericks are still a dangerous team even with the very unusual “underdog” label.

“It would be a signature win for sure,” Benedick said.

COEUR D'ALENE (9-0) AT ROCKY MOUNTAIN (10-0), 7 P.M.

This has more of a state championship feel than a semifinal matchup.

It features the top and only two unbeaten teams in the state’s 5A classification. But that’s the way seeding goes sometimes.

Regardless, the debate for who truly is the best of the unbeatens will finally get settled when No. 1 Rocky Mountain welcomes in No. 2 Coeur d’Alene at 7 tonight.

“It’s two big programs going at it,” Rocky Mountain head football coach Chris Culig said. “It doesn’t get much bigger than that.”

The two teams are similar in a lot of ways.

Both have prolific offenses that can score at will if given the chance. The Vikings are averaging more than 42 points per game, while the Grizzlies are close behind at 38.5.

Their defenses are also something that shouldn’t be trifled with.

Rocky Mountain has the top ranked defense in the state. No team has scored more than 23 points against the Grizzlies and they have only allowed two 20 point games.

The Grizzlies are also only surrendering 12.1 points and 72 rushing yards per game to go along with 31 turnovers, another state best.

But Coeur d’Alene’s defense shouldn’t be overlooked either. The Vikings are giving up a respectable 20 points per game and in five games this season, haven’t allowed more than 14 points.

Finally, most of their games haven’t been all that close.

The Grizzlies have an average margin of victory of 26.2 points per game and the closest anyone has come against them was Borah in a 27-21 win in the regular season finale. But that was with Rocky Mountain resting a lot of its starters in preparation for the playoffs.

Coeur d’Alene, meanwhile, has dominated its own opponents to the tune of a 22.1 average margin of victory, which included a 22-point rout over reigning state champion, Highland on Sept. 21.

“They have history, are well coached and have some really good players. To have a good program you have to have all of those things and they do,” Culig said. “But it’s the same for us. When people play us, they know they have to bring their A game as well.”

So the only really deciding factor might be the Grizzlies’ home-field advantage.

Rocky Mountain has lost just three games at home over the course of the last four seasons. The Vikings, on the other hand, are not nearly as good on the road. They sit at .500 with a 4-4 mark in the playoffs outside the comfort of their own field in the past nine seasons.

Nevertheless, the showdown appears like it will live up to the hype, even though in all reality, the collision course should be taking place next week for all the marbles.

“Hey, it’s still two great programs going against each other and that’s always exciting,” Culig said.

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