By AARON COE
The Snohomish football team will play the winner of the popular vote today.
No, not Al Gore.
Kentwood has been named the No. 1 team in the state by the press. And unlike the presidential election, the Conqueror’s perch at the top of the polls has not wavered, despite the forfeiture of two games.
It’s those losses – which came after Kentwood turned itself in upon learning an academically ineligible player was used in two games – that put the Conquerors second in the North Division of South Puget Sound League, but first in the hearts of the media.
And those pesky losses are why undefeated, sixth-ranked Snohomish drew the worst possible matchup in the first round.
Snohomish is one of three area teams – along with Kamiak and Sultan – which will try to advance to the state quarterfinals with victories tonight. Each plays an opponent ranked higher in the state polls.
Snohomish coach Mark Perry believes those polls are as useful as a Floridian ballot.
“Some people think they are the gospel,” Perry said. “How many (voters) have actually seen all the teams play? Kentwood is obviously a very good football team, but we believe we are, too.”
If you’re going to play Kentwood, the first round isn’t such a bad time to do it. The 8-2 Conquerors had to play Tuesday night to earn their state berth. The fifth-ranked Panthers (9-0), who won the Western Conference 4A championship by beating Sehome 41-10 Nov. 2, also get Kentwood at home in Veterans Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
The Conquerors will be without Division 1 recruit Will Conwell, who was thrown out of Tuesday’s 61-14 victory over Puyallup because referees believed the senior tackle/linebacker punched a Puyallup player. Conwell denied he threw a punch.
Kentwood, however still has some players. Running back John Gardenhire has rushed for 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns. Luke Hetherington averages 29.1 yards per reception. Quarterback Carl Bonnell has accounted for nearly 1,000 yards of total offense, thrown 13 touchdowns and scored six times himself.
Snohomish counters with an offense that has become more balanced during the season. Quarterback Josh Rodland (834 passing yards, 13 TDs) and receiver Eddie Zimmerman (531 yards and nine TDs on only 15 receptions) are just too good to keep the Panthers grounded all the time. The duo of Joe Plucker and Tim Lockhart, who have combined for over 1,400 rushing yards, will still see their share of carries.
Kamiak might have dropped out the top 10 in the polls after losing to Snohomish, but coach Dan Mack believes his team can beat anyone, including No. 8 South Kitsap. Kamiak will play the 8-1 Wolves, who are making their 21st straight trip to the state playoffs, in a 7 p.m. game at the Lincoln Bowl in Tacoma.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to win a state championship,” Mack said. “We have a tough task ahead of us (tonight). We’ll definitely give it our best shot.”
The 9-1 Knights must find a way to stop South Kitsap running back Ryan Cole, a 6-foot, 210-pounder who has rushed for 2,000 yards this year. Cole runs behind an offensive line that is much bigger than Kamiak’s defensive line, but the Knights have overcome similar disparities this season.
Kamiak features a more diverse offense than the Wolves. Quarterback Ryan Jones has thrown for 1,300 yards this season, and running backs Justin Washington and Reid Wilson have combined for 1,300 yards rushing. The Knights have scored 301 points in 10 games.
The Kamiak defense has also been solid. Only four of Kamiak’s opponents have scored double-digit points against the Knights, who have allowed only 13 points per game.
Sultan players have to be wishing there was such a thing as frequent bus-rider miles. The 6-4 Turks beat Port Townsend Tuesday night in Silverdale to qualify for the Class 2A state playoffs, and didn’t make it back to the school until after 2 a.m. Because Sultan has a rule that all players must attend school the day after a game or they will be ineligible for the next contest, Sultan players got about three hours of sleep Wednesday morning before school.
For today’s 2 p.m. game at Othello, the Turks will travel 200 miles to face the No. 2 Huskies, whose only blemish was a 12-7 loss to Prosser, the top-ranked Class 3A team in the state.
“Our motto has been ‘adversity equals opportunity,’” Sultan coach Jim MacDicken said. “We’re hoping our diversity will give them problems. We just can’t afford to make any mistakes, because they will take advantage of them.”
A ticket a state quarterfinal game would make any bus trip feel good.
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