REXBURG — Perfect seasons rarely end perfectly. There’s usually some close play that swings the tides, a back-and-forth affair that gets pushed over the hump late, a moment or two of doubt that feels like the dagger.
In other words, the football gods don’t often let teams slide by unscathed without filling their stomachs with, at least, a pinch of queasiness.
West Side was no stranger to drama this season. The Pirates just didn’t have to encounter any on Saturday. They walloped Firth 39-0, taking home their second-straight 2A state title trophy. West Side (11-0) has now not lost in 22 games and its fourth title in the last decade.
It’s West Side’s seventh state championship as it also reigned supreme in 1980, 1983, 2004, 2010, 2014 and 2019. Additionally, this is the fourth time the Pirates have gone undefeated, joining the ’80 ’83 and ’14 squads.
“We’ve had a target on our back all year, being the No. 1 seed, and these kids have handled it really well,” said West Side coach Tyson Moser, who improved to 107-23 at the Pirate helm. “I’m really proud of them for being hungry and wanting to come back and repeat because, sometimes, it’s pretty easy to be complacent with the one you won last year.
“And they weren’t complacent. They were hungry.”
Moser stood near the hash marks postgame, playing with his tan West Side hat, scratching his head and trying to figure out how it all happened. West Side is no stranger to relevance. Moser’s predecessor, Lyle Henderson, was responsible for one of the now seven state banners that the small school in Dayton now claims, setting the bar for success that Moser has found a way to clear.
Moser thinks of it more succinctly. Henderson set the foundation for the culture of West Side football. He hopes he’s merely added to that. That was all the self-gratification Moser gave himself Saturday, which, to those who understand his demeanor, is equivalent to doing a victory lap and spinning donuts on the Madison High turf.
Moser is a mild-mannered football coach who isn’t impressed or satisfied easily. Perhaps that’s why he’s celebrating his fourth state championship Saturday.
Weeks after West Side’s 14-7 win over Marsh Valley, Moser said that game felt like a loss. A few weeks later, following a 7-0 dogfight at Bear Lake, he was as frustrated as a coach who just lost on a Hail Mary. He scratched his head again that night, angry about penalties and missed opportunities and tried to light a fire in his team after … another win.
Two minutes into his postgame scrum with reporters after his fourth state title, Moser was deep into his analysis about all the nitty-gritty of the game — still in his coaching psyche as he explained defensive adjustments and Firth’s scheme and why West Side quarterback Blaize Brown had such a good day throwing the ball.
Then he was blindsided. Like he was the naive punt returner who forgot to call a fair catch, a herd of Pirates changed at Moser and leveled their coach. Player after player jumped on the dog pile that had Moser — who’s no spring chicken — lying helplessly at the bottom.
His players chuckled above him for a few seconds. Then they got off, thrust him on their shoulders and carried him around the field. In one rapid moment, West Side enacted revenge their coach for all the times he’s found reasons to be hard on them — then thanked him for doing so.
“He’s always disciplining us. No matter what. If we do a good job, he always finds something to nag at us about. It’s really annoying, but we all enjoy it because it turns out well,” said junior running back Cage Brokens.
“We didn’t know what it’s like to lose (since last year), so it reminded us of how bad it could be. I’m glad we had a few games like that because it kicked us in gear.”
Brokens scored half of West Side’s six touchdowns against Firth, part of the domination that occurred in Rexburg. The Pirates, who have only lost twice during a three-season stretch, outgained the Cougars 380-149, shutting them out while forcing them into four turnovers.
Senior linebacker Taze Stegelmeier had two interceptions and a second-quarter tackle that dropped the jaws of everyone within earshot. Stegelmeier highlighted another impressive defensive performance for the Pirates, who shut out six of their 11 opponents this fall and have recorded 10 shutouts during their 21-game winning streak. Andrew Olinger also picked off a pass for West Side, which allowed a measly 5.0 points per game during the 2020 campaign. Only the ’80 West Side defense was more dominant as it blanked nine of 11 opponents and yielded 1.9 points an outing.
Junior wide receiver Bryler Shurtliff had five catches for 79 yards and a touchdown, then added a 65-yard pick-six for the game’s final score. Junior quarterback Blaize Brown, who sometimes isn’t asked to do much, completed 11 of his 16 passes for 228 yards and three total scores.
In the midst of the postgame celebration, parents tried to track down Brokens, Shurtliff, Brown and the rest of the Pirates’ juniors. They gathered together and posed with their second trophy. They hope it’s a tradition that can continue one more time.
“Hopefully we can do it again next year,” Brokens said.
Herald Journal sports writer Jason Turner contributed to this story. Also, a story on Stegelmeier will run in Wednesday’s paper.