KELLOGG — Last week the Kellogg Wildcats clinched their second consecutive berth into the 3A playoffs following their 29-6 trouncing of the Priest River Spartans.
Making it to state is where the comparisons to last season stop.
This season has paralleled last season in every possible way though.
Last year the Wildcats were the picture of stability as they ran through their schedule and finished the season with a spotless conference record and a record that was better than anything Kellogg football fans had seen in many years.
This year, the Wildcats suffered a myriad of injuries that forced them to make adjustments and had players taking positions that they never dreamed that they would be playing.
This led to what could only be described as an average season as they headed into their conference play.
It began with a solid beating of Bonners Ferry that was a much bigger win than the score would indicate.
It was followed by a shock to the system as Timberlake put on a first-half offensive clinic before the Wildcats put the defensive clamps down, but it was too little too late.
The meeting of the two 1-1 teams meant that the winner got an automatic shot, while the loser would have a spot at a lone at large berth (which was taken by Teton).
Kellogg knew that they couldn’t put their faith in a selection committee, so they took what they wanted and ran away with a game that sent them into their matchup this weekend with buckets of momentum.
Led by quarterback Raiden Rickets, fullback Gavin Luna, and a talented offense and defense, the Wildcats may not be the favorites in this game, but they are sure to put up more of a fight than many expect.
Their opponents, the Fruitland Grizzlies finished second in their conference and an overall record of 5-3, but one of those wins came on a forfeit, and the rest of their conference looked eerily similar to the Intermountain League.
Fruitland is the two-time defending state champions, and have appeared in seven of the last eight championship games (with three wins in the last eight years).
This might look like David versus Goliath matchup, but this is a best case scenario for the Wildcats who will be looking to play their fast-paced offense against a defense that gave up an average of 25 points per game.
Coach Dan Lucier is fully aware of his teams’ opponent, but after the season he and his squad endured, he thinks they are ready.
“Being with these young men and letting all the adversity that we have overcome this past year be a strength for us and watching us continue to improve and become a better team is what I’m looking most forward to this week,” Lucier said. “Our greatest strength is our resilience and ‘one heartbeat’ mentality as a team.”
Lucier doesn’t plan on any special gameplans, but instead is hoping that his team will remember what they were taught and that they have a real shot at advancing if they never give up.
“We need to stay poised and focused, continue to get better, and believe that we can do this,” Lucier said. “But maybe most of all, we need to enjoy the journey together.”
The Wildcats will take on the Fruitland Grizzlies at noon Saturday (MST, 11 a.m. PST) at Fruitland High School.
The game can be streamed on IdahoSports.com.