Sultan’s Derek Feltner takes a handoff against Granite Falls on Sept. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Sultan’s Derek Feltner takes a handoff against Granite Falls on Sept. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Prep football preview: 2A, 1A and independent teams

Team capsules, coaches polls, and storylines, players and games to watch this season.

COACHES POLLS

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 (3) — 1.4

2. Anacortes (1) — 1.8

3. Sedro-Woolley (2) — 2.2

4. Sehome — 4.3

t5. Archbishop Murphy — 4.8

t5. Squalicum — 4.8

7. Burlington-Edison — 6

8. Lakewood — 6.6

EMERALD SOUND CONFERENCE

1. King’s (4) — 1

t2. Granite Falls (1) — 2.5

t2. South Whidbey — 2.5

4. Sultan — 3

5. Cedar Park Christian — 3.5

Note: Coaches couldn’t vote for their own team. Two coaches did not participate in the Northwest 2A voting.

NORTHWEST CONFERENCE

ARCHBISHOP MURPHY

Last season: 0-8 overall, 0-7 league

Coach: Joe Cronin (first season)

Offense: Multiple

Defense: Multiple

Returning starters: 3 on offense, 3 on defense

Key players: Diontaye Moorman, sr., RB/WR/CB; Jayden Madison, sr., RB/WR/S; Issak Smith, sr., QB/WR/CB; Jovin Shoker, sr., QB; Trae Phifer, jr., OL/LB; Justice Williams, jr., RB/LB; Jack Sievers, soph., TE/DE; Hakeim Smalls, soph., T/DT; Henry Gabalis, soph., WR/S

Overview: The Wildcats enter a new era with former Cascade head coach and O’Dea and Lake Stevens assistant Joe Cronin taking over a program coming off a winless 2022 season in the tough-as-nails Northwest 2A football league. Archbishop Murphy, a powerhouse during its first two decades of existence, hasn’t reached the state playoffs in each of the past two full-length seasons, which matches the longest playoff drought in program history. It’ll be a new-look group attempting to get the team back to its winning ways this fall, with just three starters back on both sides of the ball. Cronin is excited about the speed and attention to detail shown by both units. Senior Diontaye Moorman, a three-star recruit according to 247sports.com, was the team’s leading receiver in 2022 and provides big-play ability on offense and defense.

Schedule

LAKEWOOD

Lakewood’s Bakary Sonko plows forward for extra yards on a reception against Stanwood on Sept. 2, 2022, at Lakewood High School in Arlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lakewood’s Bakary Sonko plows forward for extra yards on a reception against Stanwood on Sept. 2, 2022, at Lakewood High School in Arlington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Last season: 3-7 overall, 1-6 league

Coach: Adam McShane (first season)

Offense: Spread

Defense: Flex 3-4

Returning starters: 7 on offense, 5 on defense

Key players: Bakary Sonko, jr., WR/DB; Toren Jack, sr., RB/WR/DB; Nash Espe, jr., QB/OLB; JJ Hoekendorf, jr., WR/DB; Kenny Conklin, sr., OL/DL; Jimmy Conklin, jr., OL/DL; Tyler Duncan, jr., RB/LB; Ethan Ralston, sr., OL/DL

Overview: After five consecutive .500 or better seasons, Lakewood finished 3-7 while facing a tough schedule that included five state playoff qualifiers in 2022. The Cougars are under new leadership for the first time in nearly two decades with first-year head coach Adam McShane taking the reins from longtime coach Dan Teeter. McShane inherits a squad with a youthful core of returning players, which includes many juniors in their second seasons of key roles. The Cougars’ returning talent features plenty of speed at the skills positions, including leading 2022 receiver Bakary Sonko. Also back are juniors Nash Espe and Evan Stacey, who split time at quarterback last season. The team brings back nearly half of its defense, which is highlighted by second-team All-Northwest 2A defensive lineman Ethan Ralston.

Schedule

EMERALD SOUND CONFERENCE

KING’S

Last season: 8-2 overall, 3-0 league; advanced to 1A state first round

Coach: Jim Shapiro (29th season)

Offense: Spread

Defense: 4-3

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense

Key players: Noah Clark, sr., QB/DB; Jackson Miller, sr., T/DT; Wesley Blackmer, sr., T/DE; Simon VanderWel, jr., OG/DE; John Brannon, sr., G/DT; Jack Fuller, jr., WR/DB; Braeden Caulk, jr., RB/LB

Overview: The Knights have won all three Emerald Sound Conference titles since the league formed in 2020 and haven’t lost a league game during the stretch. King’s, which has reached the 1A state tournament in each of the past two seasons, has won all but one of those contests by at least 28 points. The Knights bring back nearly half of their starting lineup on both sides of the ball, which includes Emerald Sound Conference Offensive Player of the Year quarterback Noah Clark. He’ll have a young group of players replacing key seniors at the skills positions around him. Coach Jim Shapiro, in his 29th season, is excited about strong and athletic offensive and defensive lines that can set the tone in the trenches for the Emerald Sound Conference favorites.

Schedule

GRANITE FALLS

Granite Falls’ Johnathan Roberts picks off a ball tipped into the air and begins to take it the other way against Sultan on Sept. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Granite Falls’ Johnathan Roberts picks off a ball tipped into the air and begins to take it the other way against Sultan on Sept. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Last season: 2-8 overall, 0-4 league

Coach: Brandon Davis (sixth season)

Offense: Spread

Defense: 4-2-5

Returning starters: 7 on offense, 9 on defense

Key players: Kaden LaPlaunt, sr., QB; Braley Kehoe, sr., RB/LB; Johnathan Roberts, sr., WR/DB; Rydon Kuahuia, jr., RB/LB; Connor Gillen, sr., RB/LB; Chris Ryer, sr., OL/LB

Overview: After ending Snohomish County’s longest state-playoff drought in 2021, the Tigers took a step back while winning just two games with a young group last fall. Expectation is a bounce-back with Granite Falls picked as a top contender in the Emerald Sound Conference this fall. The defense remains mostly intact with nine starters back on the unit, including a strong linebacker corps headlined by all-league pick Bradley Kehoe. An experienced group of receivers highlights the returners on offense, with all-league pick Johnathan Roberts leading the way. The offense also received a big addition in the offseason with senior Kaden LaPlaunt, a Lake Stevens transfer, joining the team and taking the reins at quarterback.

Schedule

SOUTH WHIDBEY

Last season: 8-2 overall, 3-1 league

Coach: Luke Hodson (fourth season)

Offense: Balanced

Defense: 3-4-4

Returning starters: 3 on offense, 4 on defense

Key players: Cole Kelly-Stine, sr., WR/DB; Cole Thorsen, sr., OL/LB; Ethan Kemp-Soenke, sr., OL/DL; Dylan Walker, sr., OL/DL; Maddox Smith-Heacox, sr., RB/LB; Cody Redford, jr., QB/LB; Connor Bartel, jr., RB/LB; Dayton Lewellen, jr., OL/DL

Schedule

SULTAN

Sultan’s Junior Vargas comes down with a deep ball against Granite Falls on Sept. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School in Sultan. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Sultan’s Junior Vargas comes down with a deep ball against Granite Falls on Sept. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School in Sultan. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Last season: 7-4 overall, 2-2 league

Coach: Rick Rudd (ninth season)

Offense: Wing Gun

Defense: 4-2-5

Returning starters: 7 on offense, 7 on defense

Key players: Derek Feltner, sr., RB/DB; Hayden Murphy, sr., TE/DE; Jonathan Van Pelt, sr., RB/LB; Junior Vargas, soph., WR/DB; Brek Bush, sr., WR/DB; Kaiden Koehler, jr., QB/DB; Kegan Aamold, sr., WR/DB

Overview: The Turks experienced a breakthrough in 2022 by reaching seven wins for the first time since 2005 and posting their first winning campaign since 2016. It was also just the third time the program finished .500 or better since 2007. Sultan brings back a slew of starters to help try and maintain its upward trajectory. The offense returns a trio of proven playmakers with all-league picks senior Derek Feltner, senior Hayden Murphy and sophomore Junior Vargas leading the way. They combined for 20 TDs on offense last season. The defense sports plenty of experience with seven starters back and is highlighted by several key returners in the defensive backfield.

Schedule

CEDAR PARK CHRISTIAN (BOTHELL)

Last season: 2-5 overall, 1-2 league

Coach: Kurt Roy (first season)

Returning starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense

Key players: Ethan Ballweber, sr., WR/CB; Jaydon Brown, sr., RB/SS; Dylan Hicks, sr., OL/LB; Aidan Nelson, sr., OL/LB; Jaren Trout, sr., OL/DL; Gregory Roy, jr., QB/CB; James Mahrer, jr., TE/LB; Lyal Viers, soph., RB/FS

Schedule

WESCO POLK DIVISION (INDEPENDENTS)

CASCADE

Cascade’s Andi Cosme turns the corner on a run during the Battle of Broadway against Everett on Oct. 7, 2022, at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Cascade’s Andi Cosme turns the corner on a run during the Battle of Broadway against Everett on Oct. 7, 2022, at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Last season: 8-2 overall

Coach: Jordan Sieh (sixth season)

Offense: Wing-T

Defense: 4-2-5

Returning starters: 3 on offense, 4 on defense

Key players: Zach Lopez, sr., RB/S; Andi Cosme, jr., RB/CB; Davon Nelson, jr., DT; Drew Anderson, sr., T; Nate Popple, sr., G; Brandon Lagutang, jr., RB/S; Gabe Dulan, jr., TE/DE; Daron Rainey, jr., DT; Tyler Mazzeo, sr., G

Overview: The Bruins made the most of their independent schedule and forced their way into a Week 9 crossover play-in game by sprinting to an 8-0 start last fall. The run included six victories by 20 or more points and the eight wins was the program’s most in a season since 2013. Cascade is tasked with replacing a large chunk of its starters on each side of the ball from that group. The running game will be the focal point for the Bruins’ Wing-T attack, and the team’s excited about its running back corps, which includes returning 1,000-yard rusher Zach Lopez, a senior. The defense brings back slightly more experience, with the defensive line and secondary leading the group.

Schedule

CEDARCREST

Cedarcrest players participate in the tug-of-war during the Lakewood 7on7 passing tournament and lineman challenge on July 19 at Lakewood High School in Arlington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Cedarcrest players participate in the tug-of-war during the Lakewood 7on7 passing tournament and lineman challenge on July 19 at Lakewood High School in Arlington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Last season: 7-3 overall

Coach: John Fiala (fifth season)

Offense: Power spread

Defense: 4-3

Returning starters: 6 on offense, 8 on defense

Key players: JT Marsh, sr., WR/FS; Zach Lienza, sr., OT; Jake DiMarzio, sr., RB; Brock Warden, sr., ILB; Connor Altmyer, jr., QB; Reid Fiala, jr., OLB; Murphy Vliem, jr., WR/DE; Mason Craig, jr., OL/DL

Overview: The Red Wolves put together a banner 2022 while playing an independent schedule, piling up seven straight wins to start the year and nearly forcing their way into a play-in game for a state tournament berth. Cedarcrest excelled on defense while holding seven of 10 opponents to 14 points or less. The team welcomes back eight starters from the unit with linebackers senior Brock Warden and junior Reid Fiala leading a formidable group in the middle. The offense also welcomes back plenty of experience with six starters returning. Big-play senior wide receiver JT Marsh gives the Red Wolves offense a go-to downfield threat.

Schedule

EVERETT

Last season: 2-8 overall

Coach: Mark Stewart (first season)

Offense: Multiple pistol

Defense: 3-4

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense

Key players: Michael Noland, sr., QB; Evan Hartt, sr., FB/DE; Ian Hendry, sr., WR/DB; Tadhg Thorne, sr., SB/DB; Jonah Schmid, sr., OL/DL; Elias Tracy, sr., WR/LB

Overview: After posting a winning campaign in 2021, the Seagulls took a step back while finishing with just two wins against their independent schedule last fall. The program looks to bounce back in their first season under longtime area coach Mark Stewart, whose previous coaching stops include Mariner and Meadowdale. Everett returns a solid core of seniors and nearly half its starters on both sides of the ball. Stewart highlighted the team’s offensive line and defensive front seven for their hard work and improvement over the offseason. Among the returners at the skills positions are 2022 leading receiver Ian Hendry and Michael Noland, who moves to quarterback after being second on the team in rushing last season.

Schedule

MEADOWDALE

Last season: 1-9 overall

Coach: Dustin McGee (first season)

Offense: Split back

Defense: 3-3-5

Returning starters: 9 on offense, 8 on defense

Key players: Victor Eichler, sr., WR; Kelvin Mudaliar, sr., OL/DL; Cameron Platt, sr., QB; Lohgan Sloan, sr., OL; Auggie Wilrich, sr., RB; Ashton Buchanan, sr., LB

Overview: The Mavericks enter a new era with Dustin McGee taking over as head coach of a program that’s in search of its first winning season since reaching the state semifinals in 2016. Meadowdale is 1-14 over the past two seasons, including 1-9 last fall, but the squad returns most of its starters on each side of the ball as it looks to reverse its fortunes against an independent schedule. McGee brings a track record of turning programs around. He took Oregon’s Santiam High School from 2-7 the year before he arrived to 2A state runner-up in his third season, and Tennessee’s Ezell-Harding from 2-8 before arrival to 8-man state champion in year two. McGee is excited about an experienced offensive line that’s led the transition into a new offense.

Schedule

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wesley Blackmer, sr., OT/DE, King’s

Blackmer was an All-Emerald Sound Conference selection on both sides of the ball last season. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior is the league’s only returning lineman to receive both honors.

Noah Clark, sr., QB/DB, King’s

Clark was selected as the Emerald Sound Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2022. He completed 67.6% of his passes for 1,614 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions, adding 299 yards and three scores on the ground. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior is also a standout on the rugby pitch.

Derek Feltner, sr., RB/DB, Sultan

Feltner averaged 5.2 yards per carry and ran for 938 yards and 10 TDs in 2022. He’s a two-time All-Emerald Sound Conference selection on offense.

Ian Hendry, sr., WR/DB, Everett

Hendry averaged 20.1 yards per catch while pulling in 22 receptions for 441 yards and five TDs last season. He was a first-team All-Wesco Polk Division pick on defense.

Kaden LaPlaunt, sr., QB, Granite Falls

LaPlaunt completed 66.7% of his passes for 399 yards, five TDs and one interception while splitting time at quarterback early in the season for 2022 4A state champion Lake Stevens.

Zach Lopez, sr., RB/S, Cascade

Cascade’s Zach Lopez cuts upfield on a sweep against Shorewood on Oct. 26, 2022, at Shoreline Stadium in Shoreline. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Cascade’s Zach Lopez cuts upfield on a sweep against Shorewood on Oct. 26, 2022, at Shoreline Stadium in Shoreline. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Lopez churned out 1,007 yards and nine TDs while averaging 8.2 yards per carry last fall. He was a first-team All-Wesco Polk Division pick on offense.

JT Marsh, sr., WR/FS, Cedarcrest

Marsh averaged 25.3 yards per catch while totaling 709 yards and seven TDs on 28 receptions last season. He was a first-team All-Wesco Polk Division selection on offense.

Diontaye Moorman, sr., WR/S, Archbishop Murphy

Moorman averaged 32.8 yards per catch with 459 yards and four TDs on 14 receptions in 2022. The three-star recruit also had an interception on defense.

Hayden Murphy, sr., TE/DE, Sultan

Sultan’s Hayden Murphy gets lifted in the air by teammates after scoring a touchdown against Granite Falls on Sept. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Sultan’s Hayden Murphy gets lifted in the air by teammates after scoring a touchdown against Granite Falls on Sept. 30, 2022, at Sultan High School. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Murphy averaged 24.5 yards per catch and hauled in 13 receptions for 318 yards and five TDs last fall. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior is a two-time All-Emerald Sound Conference pick on offense and defense.

Ethan Ralston, sr., T/DE, Lakewood

Ralston is the Cougars’ leading returning tackler after posting 59 with five tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery last season. He was a second-team All-Northwest 2A choice on defense.

Cody Redford, jr., QB/LB, South Whidbey

Redford moves from running back to quarterback after playing a prominent role as a sophomore last season. He ran for 349 yards and one TD, had 112 receiving yards and completed 4 of 4 passes for 157 yards and two TDs.

Johnathan Roberts, sr., WR/DB, Granite Falls

Roberts led the Tigers in receiving yards last season. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior was an All-Emerald Sound Conference pick on offense.

Bakary Sonko, jr., WR/DB, Lakewood

Sonko led the Cougars in receiving yards and was second in rushing in 2022. He averaged 15.6 yards per catch with 375 yards and two TDs on 24 receptions and had 165 yards and two TDs rushing. Sonko also had an interception on defense.

Brock Warden, sr., ILB, Cedarcrest

Warden piled up 94 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, one safety, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery for last fall. He was a first-team All-Wesco Polk Division pick on defense.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Which local team shows most progress in Northwest 2A?

The 2022 season was a tough one for a pair of local programs just three years removed from state quarterfinal appearances. Archbishop Murphy and Lakewood combined to go 3-15, including an 0-8 season for Murphy, and the only win in the teams’ combined 1-13 league record was Lakewood’s victory in the matchup between the two. Further proof of just how easy it is to slide in the rugged Northwest 2A football league, which produced the past two 2A state champions (Lynden) and sports a combined 8-0 record in first-round state playoff games since 2019.

With state title contenders Lynden and Anacortes highlighting the loaded league and just two playoff berths available, it’d take a monumental turnaround for the Wildcats or Cougars to push for a postseason spot. But both still have plenty to play for, regardless of postseason scenarios, as they try to reestablish themselves in 2A’s premier league.

The Wildcats and Cougars both feature young cores under the leadership of new coaches, and both have challenging schedules outside of just their Northwest 2A slates. The teams’ meeting on Sept. 29 is perhaps the start of a new era in what’s been an entertaining rivalry for more than a decade, and it could also be a needed boost for the team that comes away with the victory.

Will a lengthy state playoff drought end in the Emerald Sound Conference?

King’s has been the class of the Emerald Sound Conference over the past two seasons with a perfect record and many lopsided victories in league play. The Knights are heavy favorites to repeat as champions this season, but there’s more to play for than just a championship in the conference this fall. The league has two berths to the state playoffs up for grabs, and the presumed race for the second spot behind King’s could end a generation-long playoff drought for Sultan or South Whidbey.

Sultan last reached the state playoffs in 2000. The Turks figure to contend with a strong core of returning impact players on offense and defense. South Whidbey hasn’t reached state since 1992. The Falcons’ starting lineup has more turnover than any of their league peers, but they’re picked to contend after finishing as the league runner-up last fall. Granite Falls should also be in the mix with many starters back and the intriguing prospect of new starting quarterback Kaden LaPlaunt. The Tigers benefited from the league getting two state berths in 2021 and ended a 31-year state playoff drought, which was the longest in Snohomish County at the time.

GAMES TO WATCH

Lakewood at Stanwood, Sept. 1, 7 p.m.

The Cougars enter a new era with a difficult test in Week 1 against Wesco 3A North title hopeful Stanwood.

Nooksack Valley at King’s, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.

The Knights kick off a marquee back-to-back stretch with a matchup against 1A state semifinalist Nooksack Valley. The Pioneers won a tight 25-23 contest between the teams last season.

Mount Baker at King’s, Sept. 22, 7 p.m.

King’s gets another massive test in 1A state runner-up Mount Baker. The Mountaineers have reached the state tournament three consecutive times.

Lakewood at Archbishop Murphy, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.

Teams looking to re-find their footing in the rugged Northwest 2A square off in one of the area’s more competitive rivalry games. The Cougars have won seven of the past 10 in this series, including 19-14 last season.

Sultan at Granite Falls, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.

The Turks and Tigers meet in the Black and Blue Bowl with a recent history of down-to-the-wire finishes. Granite Falls outlasted Sultan 22-20 in overtime in the COVID-shorted spring season in 2021. Sultan scored a touchdown in the final minutes to hold on in a wild 16-13 finish last season.

Everett at Cascade, Oct. 6, 8 p.m.

Cascade looks to continue its reign of supremacy in the annual Battle of Broadway rivalry game. The Bruins have won four of the past five in this series, including 55-14 last season.

Cedarcrest at Cascade, Oct. 20, 7 p.m.

The Red Wolves and Bruins ran the table in their independent schedules before this matchup last season, which created a playoff path for winner Cascade. This becomes an intriguing game if either team can do it again.

Granite Falls at South Whidbey, Oct. 27, 7 p.m.

The last time the Emerald Sound Conference had two playoffs berths (2021) this conference finale served as the decider for second place. Both teams are expected to contend for one of those two spots again this fall.

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