EVERETT — The Archbishop Murphy football team was in the spotlight throughout last season, from the slew of opponent forfeits to the program’s dominant state-title run.
The defending Class 2A state champions will be front and center again Thursday night, as the Wildcats open their season by hosting Garfield in a non-league game that will be televised on ROOT Sports.
Opportunities for high-school athletes to play on television are rare, but Archbishop Murphy coach Jerry Jensen has been downplaying that aspect as his team prepares for the season opener.
“I’m sure the kids have been talking about it a little bit, but we really haven’t mentioned it as a coaching staff,” Jensen said. “We want to try to keep the game as simple as possible and not put any added pressure on the kids.
“At the same point in time, you know that they’re aware of it. So they’re going to want to go out and play well (for) their family and friends that are able to watch them on TV.”
Archbishop Murphy lost numerous starters on both sides of the ball from last year’s state-championship team, which won all nine games it played by 34 points or more. But with plenty of returning talent, the Wildcats are once again favorites to capture the 2A state crown.
“Last year’s group was a special group,” Jensen said. “And now this year’s class needs to figure out what they’re going to be all about, and come out and start that on Thursday.”
GARFIELD at ARCHBISHOP MURPHY
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Archbishop Murphy H.S.
TV: ROOT Sports
Last season: Archbishop Murphy (14-0, won 2A state title), Garfield (8-2, lost in 3A district-crossover round)
Outlook: Defending Class 2A state champion Archbishop Murphy opens with a non-league showdown against Garfield that will be televised by ROOT Sports. After missing five conference games last season due to opponent forfeits over player-safety concerns, the Wildcats steamrolled to their first-ever 2A state title, winning all nine games they played by 34 points or more. Numerous key players graduated from last year’s dominant squad, but Murphy returns plenty of talent. The biggest star is senior Kyler Gordon, a two-way standout cornerback and receiver who has landed offers from big-time college programs such as Notre Dame, Nebraska, Washington, Oregon and Stanford. Garfield, which reached the postseason last year before falling to Lynnwood in a 3A district-playoff game, should provide a good test for the Wildcats as they begin their title defense.
Herald pick: Archbishop Murphy
JACKSON at EDMONDS-WOODWAY
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Edmonds Stadium
Last season: Jackson (6-4), Edmonds-Woodway (6-4, lost in 3A district-crossover round)
Outlook: Both teams figure to be in the mix for postseason berths this fall. Jackson is coming off its first winning campaign since 2012 and is looking to end a four-season playoff drought. The Timberwolves are led by 6-foot-4 senior receiver and University of Colorado commit Daniel Arias, who had 1,030 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns last year while averaging 103 yards receiving per game. Edmonds-Woodway went 6-1 in the Wesco 3A South last season before suffering a seven-point district-playoff loss to eventual state quarterfinalist Lakes. The Warriors return three all-conference players from a stingy defense that yielded just 14 points per game last season. Jackson rallied for a 29-25 win over Edmonds-Woodway in last year’s non-league contest between the two teams.
Herald pick: Jackson
OAK HARBOR at MARINER
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Mariner H.S.
Last season: Mariner (7-4, lost in 4A state first round), Oak Harbor (7-3, lost in 3A district-crossover round)
Outlook: The two postseason hopefuls square off in a non-league rematch of Oak Harbor’s 27-21 win over Mariner in last year’s season opener. Oak Harbor graduated bruising running back Princeton Lollar Jr. — the area’s third-leading rusher last season — from last year’s district-playoff team. But the Wildcats return Taeson Hardin and Tamarik Hollins-Passmore, who combined for more than 1,400 yards rushing last season and will power Oak Harbor’s Wing-T ground attack this fall. The senior running-back duo looks to lead the Wildcats back to the state playoffs after they fell one win short each of the past two seasons. Mariner is coming off its first state-playoff appearance since 2007 and the program’s first winning season since 2012. But after graduating eight all-conference players from last year’s team, new stars will need to emerge for the Marauders to earn their fourth consecutive postseason berth.
Herald pick: Oak Harbor
KENTWOOD at GLACIER PEAK
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Snohomish H.S.
Last season: Glacier Peak (5-5, lost in 4A district-crossover round), Kentwood (7-3, lost in 4A district-crossover round)
Outlook: Both teams reached the postseason last fall before suffering blowout losses in winner-to-state games. Kentwood went undefeated in North Puget Sound League 4A play, but suffered a 49-0 district-playoff loss to Eastlake. Glacier Peak secured Wesco 4A’s fourth and final playoff berth before losing by 33 points to eventual state semifinalist Sumner. The Grizzlies graduated their top two receivers and have big holes to fill on defense after losing lineman Malakai Fifita and linebacker Ricky Kranz. Returning for Glacier Peak is Ayden Ziomas, who threw for 2,436 yards last season while tossing 33 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. The Grizzlies look to continue their streak of reaching the postseason every year since the school opened in 2008.
Herald pick: Kentwood
SNOHOMISH at MARYSVILLE PILCHUCK
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Marysville Pilchuck H.S.
Last season: Snohomish (7-4, lost in 3A district-crossover round), Marysville Pilchuck (3-7)
Outlook: Coming off its first winning season since 2008, Snohomish is among the favorites to claim the Wesco 3A South title and contend for a state-playoff berth. The Panthers, who averaged 45.4 points per game last year, look to keep their high-powered offense humming after graduating the star duo of quarterback Brandon Jodock and Josh Johnston. Returning for Snohomish is standout senior running back Keegan Stich, who led the area in rushing last season with 2,095 yards and 29 touchdowns while running for 190.5 yards per game. Marysville Pilchuck reached the state playoffs five times in six years from 2009 to 2014, but the Tomahawks have suffered back-to-back losing seasons. Snohomish and Pilchuck also squared off in last year’s season opener, with the Panthers rolling to 63-13 victory.
Herald pick: Snohomish
MONROE at MEADOWDALE
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Edmonds Stadium
Last season: Monroe (9-2, lost in 4A state first round), Meadowdale (10-3, lost in 3A state semifinals)
Outlook: Both teams are coming off historic seasons. Meadowdale earned the program’s first-ever trip to the state semifinals last year with a dramatic run that featured three postseason wins by a combined 13 points. Monroe reached the state playoffs for the first time since 1991 before falling to eventual state semifinalist Sumner in a first-round shootout. This non-league showdown of Wesco powers provides an early-season measuring stick for two state contenders that graduated key offensive players from a year ago. Meadowdale lost a bevy of offensive starpower with the graduation of quarterback Drew Tingstad, receiver Haelin Roberts, running back Kela Marshall and tight end Zach Plummer. Monroe lost quarterback Zach Zimmerman and star running back JJ Jerome — the area’s second-leading rusher last season — and is currently without injured star receiver Isaiah Cole. Meadowdale will be looking to avenge last year’s 55-9 season-opening loss to the Bearcats.
Herald pick: Monroe