Granite Falls players celebrate a touchdown during a game against South Whidbey on Oct. 29, 2021, in Langley. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Granite Falls players celebrate a touchdown during a game against South Whidbey on Oct. 29, 2021, in Langley. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Local 2A, 1A and independent preview: Team capsules, storylines to watch, and more

Archbishop Murphy and Lakewood look to make waves in the ultra-tough Northwest Conference.

COACHES POLL

The predicted order of finish, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Included is the average placing for each team, with the number of first-place votes in parentheses.

NORTHWEST CONFERENCE

1. Lynden (7) – 1.0

2. Sedro-Woolley (1) — 2.9

3. Squalicum — 3.1

4. Anacortes — 4.0

5. Archbishop Murphy — 4.1

6. Burlington Edison — 4.7

7. Sehome — 5.6

8. Lakewood — 6.6

EMERALD SOUND CONFERENCE

1. King’s (3) — 1.0

2. Granite Falls (1) — 2.0

3. South Whidbey — 2.3

4. Cedar Park Christian — 3.0

5. Sultan — 4.0

Note: Coaches couldn’t vote for their own team. One Emerald Sound Conference coach did not vote.

NORTHWEST CONFERENCE

ARCHBISHOP MURPHY

Last season: 3-6 overall, 1-4 league

Coach: Josh Jansen (second season)

Offense: Spread

Defense: Odd

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense

Key Players: Issiah Smith, sr., OL/DL; Kai Lewis, sr., QB; Keivon Coleman, sr., WR/DB; Spencer Locke, sr., OL/DL; Junior Gates, sr., RB/LB; Diontaye Moorman, jr., WR/DB; Jayden Madison, jr., WR/DB

Overview: After an injury-plagued season that saw the team use six different quarterbacks, five centers and go four straight weeks with at least 15 players unavailable, the Wildcats are looking to bounce back from their first losing record in a full-length season since 2014. Among the injuries were starting quarterback Kai Lewis going down for the season in Week 2. Lewis, now a senior, is back this year and ready to lead Archbishop Murphy as it enters its second year running the spread offense. The Wildcats bring back five starters on offense and four on defense. They’re tasked with replacing their top two rushers, top three receivers and a handful of key defensive players. Imposing senior two-way lineman Issiah Smith highlights a big group up front on offense and is a force on the defensive line. Junior defensive backs Diontaye Moorman and Jayden Madison are coming off solid seasons and lead a strong group on the back half of the defense. Both figure to be key as receivers on offense. The Wildcats won the 2A state title in 2016 and made the state playoffs 14 times from 2002-2019. Their journey to get back this season won’t be easy as the Northwest 2A Conference appears to be filled with state-caliber teams once again.

LAKEWOOD

Last season: 5-4 overall, 2-3 league

Coach: Dan Teeter (17th season)

Offense: Multiple spread

Defense: 3-4

Returning starters: 4 on offense, 5 on defense

Key Players: Ben Nuss, sr., WR/DB; Zachary Benton, sr., OL/DL; Solomona Finagua, sr., RB/DL; Jaxon Moore, sr., TE/LB; Toren Jack, jr., WR/DB; Ethan Ralsotn, jr., OT/DE; Bakary Sonko, soph., WR/DB; Evan Stacey, soph., QB/DB; Nash Espe, soph., QB/LB

Overview: The Cougars came into last season with a lofty No. 3 ranking in 2A and expectations of building on their 2019 state quarterfinal appearance and 5-0 record during the shortened spring campaign. But things never got rolling for Lakewood, which suffered the misfortune of a few key and untimely injuries, including losing its star quarterback early in an eventual blowout loss to Sedro-Woolley that hampered its chance for one of the ultra-tough Northwest Conference’s two state playoff spots. Still, Lakewood found a way to secure its third straight winning season with a 5-4 record against a brutal schedule that included four state playoff teams. The Cougars even went 3-1 against state teams, beating 2A semifinalist Squalicum and 1A semifinalists Lynden Christian and King’s. The one loss came to 2A champion Lynden. Lakewood has a solid core of starters to build around with four back on offense and five on defense, but the team has major impact players to replace with the graduation of current Washington State University offensive lineman Jakobus Seth, dual-threat quarterback Justice Taylor (now at Central Washington), three of team’s top four receivers and four of five leading tacklers on defense. A stout group of returners on the defensive line figures to be a strength of the squad as it attempts to navigate one of the state’s toughest leagues.

EMERALD SOUND CONFERENCE

GRANITE FALLS

Last season: 7-3 overall, 3-1 league; advanced to 1A state first round

Coach: Brandon Davis (fourth season)

Offense: Right spread

Defense: 4-3

Returning starters: 2 on offense, 2 on defense

Key Players: Johnny Roberts, jr., WR; James Porter, jr., WR/DB; Leesaw Jordan, sr., OL/DL; Bradley Kehoe, jr., WR/RB; London Ferwerda, jr., WR/DB; Spencer Shilling, jr., RB/LB

Overview: Last season the Tigers ended Snohomish County’s longest state playoff drought by earning the Emerald Sound Conference’s second and final berth. With the 31-year-old streak now in the rearview mirror, Granite Falls looks to build on its first seven-win season since 2006. But the Tigers will have to do so with new faces all over the field after graduating nine starters on each side of the ball. That includes dual-threat starting quarterback Riley Hoople and the one-two rushing punch of Gio Gonzalez and Keldyn Smith. The trio accounted for 1,936 yards and 25 touchdowns rushing and Hoople recorded all but 15 of the team’s passing yards. The Tigers do bring back experience and talent at receiver, including the team’s 2021 yards leader, Johnny Roberts. Two-way all-league lineman Leesaw Jordan leads the group in the trenches. Granite Falls is picked to compete for one of the league’s top two spots again this season. If they can get there, it’ll be a new-look group leading the way.

SULTAN

The Sultan Turks rally before their game against the Granite Falls Tigers in Sultan on Feb. 26, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Sultan Turks rally before their game against the Granite Falls Tigers in Sultan on Feb. 26, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Last season: 3-6 overall, 1-3 league

Coach: Rick Rudd (third season)

Offense: Gun Wing-T

Defense: 4-2-5

Returning starters: 8 on offense, 8 on defense

Key Players: Hayden Murphy, jr., TE/LB; Derek Feltner, jr., RB/FS; Hunter Swanson, jr., G/DE; Gavin Galle, sr., QB/DB; Brian Arenas, sr., OL/DL; Brek Bush, jr., WR/DB; Brandon Zamora, sr., OT/DT; Junior Vargas, fr., WR/DB

Overview: The Turks are coming off their fifth straight losing season and an especially tough year in league play after losing three of four conference games by 20 points or more. But Sultan brings back plenty of firepower on both sides of the ball, with eight starters returning on each unit. The Turks are led by an athletic group of skill players that includes a pair of solid junior weapons in running back Derek Feltner and tight end Hayden Murphy. Feltner ran for 951 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and Murphy hauled in four touchdown receptions. Both were all-league picks as sophomores and Murphy is one of the league’s top returning linebackers. With so much experience and proven playmakers in the mix, Sultan could be poised to push for one of the league’s playoff spots.

WESCO INDEPENDENTS

CASCADE

Cascade’s Zach Lopez, left, rushes with Mariners’ Macky James closing in on Sept. 10, 2021, at Everett Memorial Stadium. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Cascade’s Zach Lopez, left, rushes with Mariners’ Macky James closing in on Sept. 10, 2021, at Everett Memorial Stadium. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Last season: 4-6

Coach: Jordan Sieh (fifth season)

Offense: Wing-T

Defense: 4-2-5

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 3 on defense

Key players: Julian Thomas, sr., RB; Zach Lopez, jr., RB; Charlie Nelson, sr., RB/LB; Matthew Phillips, sr., OL/DL; Connor Murrweiss, sr., TE/DL; Eric Sowards, sr., QB/S

Overview: The Bruins had a solid start to their first season playing an independent schedule as they won four of their first seven games while putting up 36 points or more in each victory. But a three-game slide to end the year pushed Cascade below .500 and saw the offense bottled up to just 14 points per game. Cascade, which returns five starters on offense and three on defense, is playing an independent slate once again this fall. The Bruins return a trio of explosive running backs to spearhead their Wing-T attack, highlighted by senior Julian Thomas. The shifty lead back piled up 1,709 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior. Cascade gets the luxury of playing seven of its nine games at Everett Memorial Stadium this season. Five of those are true home games, while the two others are “road” games against fellow Everett School District teams Everett and Jackson.

EVERETT

Last season: 6-3

Coach: Brien Elliott (fourth season)

Offense: Spread

Defense: 4-4

Returning starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense

Key Players: Mikey Noland, jr., RB; Josh Smith, sr., RB/WR; Jase Caveny, sr., G/LB; Derek Bryant, sr., T/NT; Evan Hartt, jr., T/DT; Mauricio Garcia, jr., CB; Emiliano Velazquez, sr., FB/DL

Overview: After suffering through a 2-22 record over a tough three-season stretch that included a winless 2019, the Seagulls took full advantage of playing an independent schedule last fall as they compiled their first winning campaign since making the Week 10 playoffs in 2017. Everett has big shoes to fill in the backfield this season after the graduation of standout running back Juju Williams, who led the team with 1,090 yards rushing and 342 yards receiving. Junior Mikey Noland (438 yards and six touchdowns in 2021) is the Seagulls’ top returning rusher. He’ll have an experienced offensive line leading the way. The line also figures to be a strength on defense. Everett came away with bragging rights last season after going 2-0 against fellow Everett School District members Cascade and Jackson. With six starters back on offense and seven on defense, the Seagulls look primed to pull off a school district sweep once again.

MEADOWDALE

Last season: 0-6

Coach: James Harmon (fourth season)

Offense: Flexbone Veer Option

Defense: 4-3

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 7 on defense

Key Players: London DuBois, sr., QB/DB; Chris Koon, sr., RB/LB; Kelvin Mudaliar, jr., OL/DL; Cameron McCormack, sr., WR/DB; Jordon Gray, sr., WR/DB; Landin Joiner, jr., OL/DL; Victor Eicher, jr., WR/DB; Ashten Buchanan, jr., RB/LB

Overview: The Mavericks had a rough 2021 season that saw the team go winless, play only game during September due to COVID-related cancellations and deal with low participation numbers. And it was an especially tough go offensively as the team was held to single digits in each game while averaging just 4.8 points per contest. The team moves from Wesco 3A South to an independent schedule in an attempt to rebuild this season. Meadowdale welcomes back five starters on offense and seven on defense to help turn things around. Fourth-year coach James Harmon said the team is excited about increased depth on the offensive and defensive lines, both areas the Mavericks were thin at the past couple seasons. Meadowdale’s schedule includes some familiar Wesco opponents and a mix from 4A, 3A and 2A.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Derek Feltner, jr., RB/CB, Sultan

Feltner racked up 1,069 yards and 12 total touchdowns during his sophomore season. He ran for 951 yards and 11 TDs and added 118 yards and one TD receiving. His biggest performance came in Week 1 when he ran for 267 yards and five touchdowns on just 14 carries against Evergreen-Seattle.

Kai Lewis, sr., QB, Archbishop Murphy

Lewis won the Wildcats’ starting job last season but missed all but six quarters of junior year after fracturing his leg Week 2. In three and half games between his sophomore and junior seasons, Lewis completed 53.8% of his passes (42 of 78) for 608 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. The 6-foot3, 185-pound quarterback also figures to make a big impact with his running ability this season.

Issiah Smith, sr., OL/DL, Archbishop Murphy

Smith is a three-star offensive line recruit ranked as the No. 50 overall senior prospect in the state by 247sports.com. The 6-foot-2, 305-pound two-way lineman was an All-Northwest 2A Conference pick on both sides of the ball in 2021. He had six tackles for loss and a fumble recovery on defense.

Julian Thomas, sr., RB, Cascade

Cascade’s Julian Thomas crosses the goal line for a touchdown with Mariners’ Isaiah Cuellar trailing in the first quarter of a game on Sept. 10, 2021, at Everett Memorial Stadium. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Cascade’s Julian Thomas crosses the goal line for a touchdown with Mariners’ Isaiah Cuellar trailing in the first quarter of a game on Sept. 10, 2021, at Everett Memorial Stadium. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Thomas kept the tradition of 1,000-yard rushers in Cascade’s Wing-T offense going by piling up 1,709 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 8.1 yards per carry as a junior. His season included three games of 200-plus yards on the ground. The 5-foot-6, 175-pound running back is a two-star recruit.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

How many state-caliber teams in Northwest 2A miss out on the postseason?

It’s no secret that some of the best 2A football in the state gets played in the Northwest Conference. The league is filled with teams with rich playoff traditions and regularly had three or four squads in the Associated Press 2A top 10 last fall. The problem: the league received just two playoff berths last season (Lynden went on to win the state title and Squalicum made the semifinals). The result: multiple playoff-caliber teams were relegated to being spectators in November. The league only gets tougher this season with Anacortes returning from an independent schedule and looking like a competitive squad.

Coaches hope to see a change that will give the conference a chance to send more teams to state. But there haven’t been any signs that point towards that happening this fall. If just two teams from this league are going to qualify for state again, chances are the 2A football playoffs won’t feature the classification’s top 16 teams.

Can any team in the Emerald Sound Conference keep up with King’s?

Last season King’s ran away with the Emerald Sound Conference title with a 3-0 record in league play while outscoring opponents 146-14. The Knights, who made the 1A state semifinals, are favored to once again reign supreme in the conference, and all signs point towards another dominant league season for King’s. The good news for the Knights’ opponents is that Emerald Sound Conference Offensive Most Valuable Player Hayden Teeter, a standout dual-threat quarterback, has graduated. The bad news is that King’s still played well while Teeter was out with an injury early last fall. Granite Falls and South Whidbey are picked to be the Knights’ top challengers, but they have a lot of ground to make up after being shutout in running-clock losses against King’s last season.

Which independent team emerges as the most competitive?

It’s become a growing trend over the past six or so years for teams to forgo their league schedule for an independent slate. Oftentimes that decision is made to help a struggling program rebuild by scheduling similar opponents in an effort to play winnable games and build excitement around the team. It can also be used for the safety of squads that expect to be very young. Those teams can avoid playing opponents that are older and much more physically mature. Wesco has been no stranger to this trend as Everett, Cascade, Shorewood and now Meadowdale have all decided to go independent for at least one season since 2016. Shorewood even did it on two separate occasions.

This year’s independent teams are Cascade, Everett and Meadowdale, and they all play each other once. By the end of the season, one or more of these teams could show they’re ready to get back to their traditional conference schedules.

GAMES TO WATCH

Stanwood at Lakewood, Sept. 2

Lakewood receives a test right out of the gates when it hosts Wesco 3A North title hopeful Stanwood in Week 1. It’s one of many tough games on the Cougars’ schedule and one that should prove as a solid barometer of where the team’s at in its first year of the post-Taylor brothers era at quarterback.

Archbishop Murphy at Lakewood, Sept. 30

The Wildcats and Cougars have gone mostly back-and-forth for over a decade now in one of Snohomish County’s more competitive rivalries, with Lakewood holding a slight upper hand in winning six of the past 10 matchups. A victory in this game would be a big boost for either team as they look to rebound in Northwest 2A.

Granite Falls at Sultan, Sept. 30

The Tigers take a four-game winning streak into their annual Black and Blue Bowl rivalry game with Sultan. This serves as the first league game of the season for both and could provide a huge boost in the chase for one of the five-team Emerald Sound Conference’s top two spots.

Archbishop Murphy at Lynden, Oct. 7

It’s yet to be seen if Archbishop Murphy will bounce back from back-to-back losing seasons, but the history of this matchup alone makes it an intriguing battle each year. Both squads have been 2A powerhouses for years, combining for 25 state playoff appearances, seven state titles and four state runner-ups since 2006. Lynden holds six of those championships and has won the past three in this matchup.

Cascade at Everett, Oct. 7

For the second straight year the Battle of Broadway features teams forgoing conference schedules to play independent slates. Last year’s matchup provided a wild finish, as Everett scored a touchdown in the final minutes of the game to tie and then quickly recovered a fumble to set up a game-winning field goal with one second left. It was the Seagulls first victory in the series since 2016.

South Whidbey at Granite Falls, Oct. 28

These teams battled it out in a down-to-the-wire clash that determined who secured the Emerald Sound’s second and final state berth in 2021. Granite Falls rode a stingy second-half defensive effort to a 13-12 win and ended its 31-year playoff drought. With this being the final league game of the season for each and King’s being a clear front-runner to win the league, this game could determine second place again.

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