There’s no question it’s been an extremely gratifying and rewarding season for West Side’s football program.
After all, many people thought the Pirates would be in rebuilding mode after graduating seven seniors who earned first- or second-team all-state honors a year ago. Additionally, West Side lost seven other seniors who were instrumental in helping their team make back-to-back trips to the 2A state semifinals.
And yet, the Pirates have sparkled in 2019 and are only one win away from capturing their third state title of this decade. Standing in West Side’s way is undefeated McCall-Donnelly.
The top-seeded Pirates (10-1) and second-seeded Vandals (11-0) will square off in the championship game of the Idaho 2A state tournament on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Eagle High School.
“It always feels good after you’ve been knocking on that door, you’ve been to that same place two years in a row and have gotten beat out, it just feel good to make that next step,” WS head coach Tyson Moser said. “It just feels like a great accomplishment to get past that hurdle, but then, in another sense, it just puts the pressure on you because every game gets tougher. You clear one hurdle and you’ve got a bigger one in front of you.”
Indeed, West Side’s final hurdle will be an extremely formidable one. McCall-Donnelly is brimming with confidence after dispatching of a then-undefeated North Fremont squad, 23-12, in the semifinals. It’s the only time this season the Vandals haven’t won by at least 23 points.
Arguably the best McCall-Donnelly team in school history has a whopping 19 seniors on its roster and is led by 6-foot-4 quarterback Peter Knudson. The senior has thrown 37 touchdown passes this season and has rushed for an additional nine scores. Knudson has racked up more than 3,100 yards of total offense, to boot.
“Yeah, for sure it will be (our biggest challenge of the season),” Moser said. “We have not really played a dual-threat quarterback this year. We’ve played several spread teams and we’ve played against some really good passing quarterbacks, but this will be the first dual-threat quarterback we’ve played, so it’s definitely going to give us a challenge.”
Knudson’s go-to target in the passing game has been 6-2, 200-pound wide receiver Noah Ormsby, who have hauled in 42 receptions for 1,160 yards and 18 TDs.
Fortunately for the Pirates, their secondary has been outstanding this season. Senior safety Ryan Beckstead, who is also the team’s starting signal caller, has intercepted six passes, and sophomore cornerbacks Bryler Shurtliff and Cristian Plancarte “have really come a long way,” Moser said. Shurtliff has the height and leaping ability to match up with Ormsby.
“We’ve probably played against better quarterbacks this year than I ever remember us playing, and so I think we’ve definitely been tested and I think our kids have definitely gained a lot of experience,” Moser said. “... I thought last year was the best secondary that we’ve had and I didn’t know that we’d be able to replace that, but we might be better this year. ... I’m really happy with the way our secondary’s playing and I think they’ve got one more good game in them.”
The matchup between McCall-Donnelly’s dynamic offense and West Side’s stingy defense is a very intriguing one. The Vandals rank first in 2A in scoring offense (43.2 points an outing) and have racked up fewer than 42 points only twice this season, while the Pirates hold down the top spot in the classification in scoring defense (6.9 ppg). West Side has shut out four opponents and has only allowed double-digit points twice.
Additionally, the Pirates have created 31 turnovers and have scored five defensive touchdowns. Continuing that trend against the Vandals will be exceptionally challenging, though.
“Offensively, I don’t think we really have what it takes to blow them out, and they definitely have what it takes to blow us out if we’re not ready,” Moser said. “They’re just more explosive than we are.”
To combat that explosiveness, the Pirates will attempt to dominate the time of possession battle and wear the Vandals down with their vaunted rushing attack. Cage Brokens and Jaxon Moser have combined for 1,763 yards on the ground this season and have teamed up for 23 TDs. Nine different Pirates have found paydirt at least twice this fall on the offensive side of the ball.
West Side starts five seniors in the offensive trenches in Ethan Mott, Hunter Abbott, Zach Groll, Isaac Frankman and Armando Montano. Those five linemen, plus tight end Taze Stegelmeier, have “definitely been the key to our success this year,” coach Moser asserted.
Stegelmeier has also been a tackling machine for the Pirates as he leads them with 149. Easton Henderson (10 sacks) and Jaxon Moser (71 tackles, two INTs, two fumble recoveries) have also been very consistent performers on West Side’s defense.
The Pirates have only lost once this season and it was by one point on the road to eventual 3A semifinalist Snake River. West Side beat McCall-Donnelly in the 2A quarterfinals, 34-20, a year ago.