POCATELLO — If the cafes around Dayton are empty on Friday morning, blame the Idaho High School Athletic Association. Blame them for making supporters of West Side and Firth trek to and from Pocatello in pitch-black darkness. For ensuring that even the earliest of early birds weren’t getting to bed before midnight. For making the best 2A teams in the state battle for glory well past prime time.
The state title game officially kicked off at 9:21 p.m.
Luckily, it was over by 9:22.
On the first play from scrimmage, Cage Brokens ran 70 yards up the seam for the opening score. The Pirates’ senior running back burst into the end zone and burst open the 2A championship.
The Pirates do not need much to turn a competitive game into a blowout. When opponents crack open the door, West Side grabs a battering ram and knocks the thing off its hinges.
Brokens sent the door flying with his early score. The Pirates still kept rolling.
They beat Firth 33-13. They became the first 2A team in Idaho to claim back-to-back-to-back state titles. The added a fifth first-place trophy to coach Tyson Moser’s resume. They notched an eighth banner for the small school in Dayton. They extended their winning streak to 32 games, a baker’s dozen of which ended in shutouts. And they sent out the best senior class in school history, one that finished its high school career with a 43-2 record.
Best of all, they remained champions.
“It’s unreal. I want to think it’s normal but, I mean, no one has done it,” said senior Bryler Shurtliff. “We’re blessed to live where we live and we’re blessed to have the community we have.”
Perhaps that’s not surprising. West Side had more talent and more experience than any team it faced. The Pirates were so dominant at times that if someone suggested they move up to 3A or 4A, it wouldn’t sound like a pipe dream.
But great runs end. West Side’s will. It will eventually lose a game, eventually end a season without a first-place trophy. Some thought it might be this season. The Pirates at least looked beatable. OK it was only for one game, but they were dead-to-rights in the season-opener against Firth and escaped with an overtime victory.
From that game to Thursday’s state title, West Side “really only faced about eight minutes of adversity,” Moser said.
Indeed — and it didn’t matter. A year after pitching a 39-0 shutout against Firth in the title game, the Pirates again turned what was supposed to be the most-competitive game of the year into a rout. That’s the talent West Side brings.
Thanks to his big run, Brokens went over the century mark on Thursday. Tailback Parker Henderson scored a pair of touchdowns. Linebacker Owen Nielsen snatched a pick-six to open the third quarter. And Shurtliff — the 6-foot-3, 165-pound Idaho State commit —recovered two fumbles — the first forced by younger brother Easton — and took a masterful jump ball 89 yards to put the game on ice.
“We’ve had a lot of great athletes but none with his physical gifts,” Moser said of Shurtliff. “It’s been nice for us for sure to throw the ball out there and bail us out of trouble.”
There’s another crop of seniors that didn’t touch the field on Thursday, those whose only playing time comes on the practice field. They’re the ones who Moser felt kept his squad grounded, kept them from believing they were as unbeatable as everyone on the outside proclaimed.
“Honestly, our scout team could beat some varsity teams,” Moser said without a hint of sarcasm. “And that’s what helped us get better. Even when we were winning varsity games by a long way, we were getting better in practice because our scout team was so good.”
To those seniors, though, Thursday’s championship will mean the most. Not because of what they overcame but because of what their coach preaches. As Moser says, “You remember the seniors on the team, not the juniors.” All year, he reminded his leaders that they still hadn’t won their title yet. They had a been a part of some championship teams and racked up a nice streak of victories. That’s it.
“With each championship, (I give credit) to that senior class,” Moser said. “So the 2019 (title), that went to those seniors. The 2020 one was last year’s seniors.”
As for these seniors: “This is now their championship.”
And in the process of capturing another blue, first-place trophy, the Pirates showed little signs of slowing down – which begs the question: What’s it going to take to four-peat?
“I’ll start thinking about that tomorrow,” Moser said.
Unfortunately for Moser, “tomorrow” started before he could head back to Dayton.