The Squalicum and Ferndale football teams are feeling a bit like the new kids at school.
After reclassification by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) moved Squalicum from 2A to 3A, the Storm and Ferndale elected to join the Wesco 3A North for football this season after spending several years in the Northwest Conference.
The move, which is for football only, increases the Wesco 3A North’s level of difficulty significantly.
Squalicum has reached the 2A state quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons. Ferndale has had success against Wesco teams in crossover games, most recently defeating Marysville Pilchuck 49-20 in a district play-in game last fall.
The two squads from Whatcom County are ready to leave their mark on their new opponents.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich, who has coached the Golden Eagles for 13 seasons. “Over the course of the years, we have a little familiarity with some of the teams. We’ve played Oak Harbor a few times, Arlington a couple times, MP last year. … We’ve done it a little bit but it’s always fun and exciting to match up with guys you’re not as familiar with.”
“It’s exciting. It’s a really good league,” added Nick Lucey, Squalicum’s head coach. “We teach our guys to face a nameless, faceless opponent each week. We play some good teams in the Northwest Conference. … I think it’ll be more physical week in and week out. It will be exciting to go to new places and I know there’s some really good coaches in the league.”
Ferndale, which has been a 3A team for years, had to play a crossover game with a Wesco 3A North squad at the end of each regular season to earn a district berth.
The new league eliminates the need for that extra game.
“It was something that we had talked about last time (reclassification) came about,” Plenkovich said. “It’s tough. We had some great rivalries up here and teams that everybody’s familiar with. We just felt, moving forward, it was the best opportunity for our kids to earn whatever playoff seed they get and play teams more like us.”
Squalicum is new to the 3A classification this season. The Storm were the second-to-last school to meet the cutoff for 3A. School officials considered petitioning the WIAA to remain at the 2A level, but decided instead to join Ferndale in pursuing a route into Wesco.
“It’s going to be a challenge at the 3A level,” said Lucey, last year’s Northwest Conference Coach of the Year. “It’s going to be a fight every week.”
Lucey’s Squalicum squad poses an immediate challenge for the incumbent Wesco 3A North teams. A perennial playoff contender, the Storm return last year’s Northwest Conference Most Valuable Player, Ben Peterson, who shines at wide receiver, defensive back, kicker and returner.
Also back for Squalicum, which opens its schedule with two non-league games before its Wesco 3A North debut against Marysville Pilchuck on Sept. 16, is quarterback Garrett Sorenson, all-conference linebacker and offensive lineman Jack Wendling, and star defensive tackle Jake Burns.
“We’re kind of a power spread team,” said Lucey, who is in his third season as head coach of the Storm. “We hang our hat on running the ball and everything comes off that. We like to mix it up in the passing game and make use of what we’ve got.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of football.”
Ferndale’s style will look familiar to those in a league that includes Marysville Pilchuck. The Golden Eagles, who are welcomed to the Wesco 3A North on Sept. 23 by defending champion Arlington, run the Wing-T offense, which aims to pound the ball down the field through a rigid ground attack. Key returners for Ferndale include Winterhawk Leighton, a three-year starter at defensive lineman, running back/defensive back Justice Powell, wide receiver/defensive back Jacob Kildall, and junior quarterback James Hinson.
“Our goals aren’t any different than they were up here,” Plenkovich said. “We take each week one at a time and try to play our best football, wherever that takes us. If we play our best, that’s something we can be satisfied with as coaches. Our league up here has been a very good football league. Obviously, Wesco has some very good football teams as well that we’re looking forward to matching up with.”
One of those teams is defending Wesco 3A North champion Arlington. Eagles head coach Greg Dailer said the bar has been raised for his team and the rest of the Wesco 3A North.
“They’re two high-quality teams,” Dailer said. “It is kind of fun to start some new rivalries and add some new blood to the mix. I think it will make the Wesco North much more interesting in terms of how things pan out in the end. It definitely makes the league even tougher than it already was.”
Dailer said repeating as the Wesco 3A North champion became significantly more difficult with the addition of Ferndale and Squalicum.
“We’re definitely excited about the opportunity to win the Wesco North again, but there are a lot of teams in contention for that crown,” he said. “I don’t see any one team ahead of anyone or any one team really lagging.
“It should be an interesting season in the Wesco North.”