Senior quarterback Willy Bennett hands off to senior running back Aidan FLeming during a practice at Sultan High School on Aug. 23. (Katie Webber / The Herald)

Senior quarterback Willy Bennett hands off to senior running back Aidan FLeming during a practice at Sultan High School on Aug. 23. (Katie Webber / The Herald)

North Sound football preview: Coaches poll and storylines

King’s and Cedar Park Christian appear to be the team’s to beat

COACHES POLL

The predicted order of finish, as voted on by the North Sound Conference coaches. Included are the average points per vote, with first-place votes in parentheses.

1. King’s (1) — 3.5

2. Cedar Park Christian (2) — 3

3. Granite Falls — 2.5

4. Sultan — 2

5. South Whidbey — 1.7

Note: Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team. Two coaches chose not to participate. Coupeville is playing an independent schedule this season.

FAVORITE

King’s. The Knights have plenty of returning talent from last season’s second-place squad and figure to be the top candidate to dethrone the defending champion, Cedar Park Christian. King’s finished last season 4-6 after an 0-4 start, but went 4-1 in conference games while holding opposing offenses to just 16 points per contest. The Knights posted nine straight winning seasons from 2009-2017 before finishing below .500 the past two seasons. King’s plays host to CPC on Oct. 18 in what may end up being the biggest game of the North Sound Conference slate.

CONTENDER

Cedar Park Christian. The Eagles earned their first conference title in football last season and figure to be in the hunt for a repeat after graduating just four seniors. Cedar Park Christian went 5-0 in league play, outscoring their opponents by an average of 25.7 points per game. The team is tasked with replacing 2018 North Sound Conference Defensive MVP Dawson Drews, but senior running back Zach Wilkins returns to lead a Wing-T rushing attack that trampled league foes last season. Wilkins, the league’s offensive MVP in 2018, ran for 1,279 yards and 15 touchdowns on 168 carries as a junior, totaling 150 yards or more on the ground in five games. Wilkins is complemented by juniors Brandon Parrish and John Petrus, who rushed for 535 and 312 yards, respectively, in 2018.

STORYLINES

Can North Sound Conference teams take a step forward in district playoff games?

While last season marked a new beginning for the six teams in the North Sound Conference as they entered a more competitively balanced all-Class 1A league, the campaign’s end came to a familiar, abrupt halt. The four teams that qualified for a Week 10 playoffs (Cedar Park Christian, King’s, South Whidbey and Granite Falls) were outscored 211-32 by the Northwest Conference’s 1A schools. Since 2014, North Sound teams are 2-14 — both wins by King’s — in Week 10 games. With many of the North Sound’s schools facing lengthy state-playoff droughts, the path to the state tournament goes through a tough Northwest Conference that sent three teams to the state quarterfinals last season.

On the road again

North Sound Conference teams will be well-traveled by the end of the season. Including Coupeville — which is playing an independent schedule this season — five of the six North Sound Conference teams play more road games than home games this season. There are few schools of similar size that border the area the North Sound Conference encompass, and the total miles racked up traveling to and from games this season comes out to a whopping 5,468.

Cedar Park Christian, the only school with more home games (six) than road games (three), heads south to take on the Rancho Christian School at Moorpark High School in Moorpark, California, a journey that totals 2,220 miles round trip and is far and away the clubhouse leader. Some of the other long trips include South Whidbey’s 342-mile round trip to Chelan High School, Coupeville’s 332-mile jaunt to and from Kittitas High School, a 316-mile round trip to Forks High School for Granite Falls — which plays six of its nine games on the road — and a 198-mile trip to and from Nooksack Valley High School for King’s. The five teams playing league schedules will travel an average of 911.1 miles this season (188.6 miles per game), and Week 10 playoff games with teams from the Northwest 1A Conference will add to that total.

Can one of the three public schools challenge CPC and King’s for the conference title?

It’s been nearly three decades since Granite Falls, South Whidbey or Sultan earned a conference title in football. If one of those three teams is going to breakthrough and end the collective title drought, it will be doing so from an underdog role.

According to the coaches poll, Granite Falls is the top contender among the trio. The Tigers showed a stingy defense in league play last season, allowing just 11.6 points per game and no more than 20 points in a contest against conference foes. That defense kept Granite Falls, which lost three conference games by a combined total of just 18 points, in its league games, but the team will have to prove it can move the ball on offense after failing to score more than 14 points in eight of 10 games in 2018.

South Whidbey has been a program on the rise since playing an independent schedule in 2017 because of low turnout numbers. The Falcons returned to conference play with a third-place finish last season. South Whidbey returns a solid core of players from a 6-4 team that earned a Week 10 playoff game. It just needs to prove that plays such as the fumbled snap that turned into an improbable touchdown heave into the end zone off a defender’s helmet in a 21-20 overtime win over Sultan weren’t just lucky breaks. The Falcons eked out three one-point victories and another win by just five points.

Sultan is coming off a season where it was an early favorite but couldn’t get much going after a heartbreaking overtime loss to South Whidbey to open league play. Sultan allowed three teams to put up season-high point totals, and the Turks were outscored 138-26 in three games to close out the season.

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