Senior dual-threat quarterback Jared Taylor leads a Lakewood team that’s looking to contend in the highly competitive Northwest 2A Sky Division. (Katie Webber / The Herald)

Senior dual-threat quarterback Jared Taylor leads a Lakewood team that’s looking to contend in the highly competitive Northwest 2A Sky Division. (Katie Webber / The Herald)

Northwest 2A prep football preview: Coaches poll and storylines

Lynden and Archbishop Murphy again appear to be the favorites in the talent-laden Sky Division.

COACHES POLL

The predicted order of finish in the Sky Division — the higher of the Northwest 2A league’s two competitively balanced tiers — as voted on by the league’s coaches. Included is the average points received per vote, with first-place votes in parentheses.

Sky Division

T1. Lynden (3) — 4.25

T1. Archbishop Murphy (2) — 4.25

3. Lakewood — 3.25

4. Sedro-Woolley — 3

5. Burlington-Edison — 2.2

6. Blaine — 1.25

NOTES: Coaches weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams. One Sky Division coach was unable to be reached. Not enough coaches responded to the Lake Division poll.

FAVORITES

Lynden and Archbishop Murphy. These two perennial powers have accounted for seven of the past 13 Class 2A state titles and combined for 17 state semifinal appearances over that span. They also have quite the recent history of state-playoff clashes, having squared off in three state semifinals and a state championship game since 2008. Their rivalry continued last year during the inaugural season of the district-wide Northwest 2A league, with the two programs meeting for the first time as conference rivals. The Wildcats took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter but Lynden backup quarterback Brock Heppner rallied his team for a pair of touchdowns, leading the Lions to a 24-21 comeback victory that ultimately decided the Sky Division crown. Lynden went on to play in the 2A state title game, falling 42-37 to two-time defending champion Hockinson. The Lions graduated the majority of their starters from last year’s state runner-up team, but they return Heppner and are a program that always tends to be well-stocked with talent. Archbishop Murphy is coming off a stunning 37-9 loss to Sehome in the winner-to-state Week 10 playoffs, which ended the Wildcats’ streak of three consecutive state semifinal trips. Archbishop Murphy looks to rebound this fall under interim head coach Mark Leone, who replaced Jerry Jensen.

CONTENDERS

Lakewood and Sedro-Woolley. Lakewood went 0-4 in Sky Division play last season, but two of those losses came by a combined seven points. If the Cougars can win some of those tight games this year, they could move their way up the league pecking order and contend in this ultra-tough division. Lakewood graduated five first-team all-conference players from last season but returns dual-threat senior quarterback Jared Taylor, who totaled 2,462 yards and 30 touchdowns last year. Sedro-Woolley went 1-3 in the Sky Division last season, but the Cubs gave eventual state semifinalist Liberty a scare during a 31-28 loss in the Week 10 winner-to-state round. The Cubs return two-way senior standout Brent VanderVeen, a three-star safety who committed to Eastern Washington University on Monday after also receiving scholarship offers from the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

The battle for state berths could be particularly competitive

The Sky Division is loaded with some of the state’s top 2A programs. Every season since 2006, at least one of the current Sky Division teams has advanced to the state semifinals. And over that 13-year span, the quartet of Lynden, Archbishop Murphy, Sedro-Woolley and Burlington-Edison has combined for 21 state semifinal trips, 13 state-title game appearances and eight state championships. But with just three 2A state-playoff berths available this season for the Northwest/Sea-King bi-district — and with perennial power Liberty from KingCo 3A/2A also part of this talent-laden bi-district — simply advancing to state could be a considerable challenge.

How will Blaine fare after moving up to the Sky Division?

One surprise this offseason was Blaine’s move up from the Lake Division to the Sky Division. The Borderites went 2-3 in the Lake Division last year, finishing fourth out of six teams. Blaine beat Lake Division co-champion Mountlake Terrace in the first round of the bi-district playoffs, but then fell 47-0 to eventual state runner-up Lynden in the Week 10 winner-to-state round. Following the season, the league used a weighted formula to determine which tier each team would be placed in this year. The formula resulted in the same five Sky Division teams as last season, but there also was a provision allowing one of the Lake Division teams to opt up. Northwest Conference president Mike McKee said one or two Lake Division teams ahead of Blaine in the formula declined the option to move up, which provided the Borderites the opportunity to do so. “I think Blaine (believes) with the kids they have coming back that they’re going to be more competitive (than last year),” McKee said back in June. “You wouldn’t opt to be in the Sky unless that’s the case. … Nobody’s going to opt up unless they think they belong, because it just wouldn’t be good for them.”

Will another Lake Division team upset a Sky Division team?

Sehome pulled off a massive upset as the No. 9 seed in last year’s bi-district playoffs, rolling to a stunning 28-point victory over No. 2 seed and Sky Division runner-up Archbishop Murphy in the Week 10 winner-to-state round. Can Sehome or another Lake Division team knock off a squad from the league’s upper tier for the second straight year? From a numbers standpoint, doing so figures to be more difficult this season. With Blaine moving up to the Sky Division and Anacortes not fielding a varsity team this year, the Lake Division is left with just four teams: Sehome, Mountlake Terrace, Bellingham and Cedarcrest. Sehome, Terrace and Bellingham finished in a three-way tie for the inaugural Lake Division crown last season, and all three seem capable of contending for the division title again this fall. Of those three teams, Sehome appears to have been hit the hardest by graduation, having lost more than half of its varsity roster from last year’s state-playoff squad.

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