Less than eight hours from now I’ll be in the press box at Arlington High’s John Larson Stadium, waiting for kickoff of the 2009 Stilly Cup football game.
Did you see our video interviews with Stanwood players and Arlington players? The guys were all extremely excited about tonight’s game. Stanwood linebacker Jay Steik said it will be the biggest game of his life. He also predicted a 42-14 Stanwood triumph.
One interesting angle for this year’s Stilly Cup game is that both coaches are relatively new. Arlington’s Greg Dailer is in his second year as the Eagles head coach, while this is Aaron Cupp’s first season guiding Stanwood. Here are excerpts of my interviews with the coaches from earlier this week.
Arlington High School football coach Greg Dailer
On Arlington’s explosive offense (The Eagles have scored 41 points or more in a game five times this season.)
“The offense has been clicking all year. The only team that really shut us down was Jackson. Marysville stopped us pretty solid, but we still moved the ball a little bit against them.”
Arlington (3-2 Wesco North, 4-4 overall) has had five games with more than 400 yards of offense and had over 300 versus unbeaten Marysville-Pilchuck, Dailer said.
“So we’ve been clicking pretty well (but) we had a couple games there in the middle where we had trouble in the red zone.”
In the middle of the season, Arlington changed its focus from pass-first to run-first. The Eagles racked up 300 yards rushing in a win over Monroe and 200 yards on the ground in a win against Oak Harbor.
“That was fun to be able to get the running game going.”
On Arlington’s much-improved defense. (The Eagles have allowed an average of just 14.3 points during their three-game win streak.)
“Our defense has been doing a really nice job. (They) really threw a challenge down after the Jackson game (a 56-21 loss) to be more aggressive and tackle better, and they’ve really stepped it up.”
Dailer praised junior middle linebacker Blake Petersen, who has 54 tackles over the last three games. “That guy’s been an animal lately. We knew he was going to be good. … Blake is the leader of our defense right now, him and (senior linebacker) Jeff Owen.”
On coaching in his second Stilly Cup game, his first at Arlington High
“Getting to host it means a lot. There’s a lot of meaning (playoff implications) to the game. Last year there wasn’t so much, so it’s been real exciting. All the kids, as soon as the Snohomish game was over they were already starting to talk about the Stilly Cup.”
“You know, you don’t have to give a great speech (during) Stilly Cup week. The kids are already ready to go.”
On defending Stanwood’s spread offense
“They’re doing some good things there at Stanwood. I’ve noticed that their quarterback (senior Mike McCune) has really improved since the beginning of the season. At the beginning of the year he had some not-great form and I think coach Cupp’s done a great job with him.”
“We have to tackle well. They have some guys with some speed. (Running back Brad Gee) is a bruiser. We aren’t going to stop all the pass plays. We just want to make sure we don’t give up the big play, so it might come down to tackling.”
On hosting the Stilly Cup game
“We’re glad to have it at home. Our fans, they’ll pack the place. It should be a lot of fun.”
On the potentially sloppy field conditions at Larson Stadium
“The field will be mushy and we don’t mind. We’re mudders. We practice on (a muddy field). Our field is our field. We enjoy playing on it and other people don’t always.”
On Arlington’s health
“(Senior running back/safety Jake Parduhn) has been dinged up (shoulder) and he missed last week. But overall we have been much healthier this year. The flu bug seems to be passing us by.”
Stanwood High School football coach Aaron Cupp
On Stanwood’s 24-0 non-league loss last week versus Ferndale
“There were just a lot of distractions.” It was Stanwood (3-2 Wesco North, 3-5) senior night. The festivities disrupted the team’s usual pre-game routine, and there was a 35-40 mph wind that limited the Spartans’ passing attack, said Cupp.
“And Ferndale’s (6-2) a really good football team. They come out, they execute. They’re sharp. They do the things that they need to do to win. I really felt like they played well. They played focused. They executed and we just didn’t do any of those things.”
Stanwood didn’t watch film of the Ferndale game the morning after. “We looked awful and I think at this point in the season our playoff is this week (against Arlington). This is when our playoffs start. There’s no reason to look back at a game that we felt like really wasn’t who we are.”
On what will it take to beat Arlington
“It goes back to execution. I think we need to really make sure of our coverage in the secondary. We need to be sharp defensively. They execute really well and they’ve got two quarterbacks (senior Andy Smith and sophomore Blake McPherson) it looks like they’re using who are mobile with pretty good arms. … That can translate into points in a hurry if we get out of position.”
On Stanwood’s health
“We’re a little dinged up here and there but I think we’re going to be OK. Everyone should be available that has been available.” Stanwood previously lost two starters to season-ending knee injuries: senior WR/DB Kaden Barrish and DL/OL Jake Budd. Barrish got hurt against Oak Harbor, Budd against Monroe.
On why there seems to be significantly more severe knee injuries throughout Wesco this year
“Maybe it’s because so many teams have gone to (artificial turf fields). It gets to be an interesting question. I’ve had some philosophical debates with people. You start to wonder if (teenage players) are getting so big and strong and heavy that (their tendons can’t support it). You can strengthen their leg muscles and you can get them faster and do all those things, but their ligaments sort of are what they are, right?”
On Stanwood senior RB/LB Brad Gee’s intensity
“He’s just a kid that likes to compete and he obviously loves the physicality of the sport. As a former fullback (Cupp played for Brigham Young University), I see a lot of that mentality that you’ve got to have. … He’s a pretty nice kid (off the field) but you get him on Friday nights or you get him in competition and he’s got a little bit of nasty in him. The great ones, they’ve got that.”
“I’d love to see him play (in college). We’re doing some things to try to get him placed, if we can.”
On Cupp’s preference for not using two-way starters, whenever possible
“That’s what we kind of like to do. It’s really part of my philosophy that if we can keep kids from playing both sides of the ball, we will. I just feel like we’re a better football team that way. I know at times it’s been unpopular. They want to play all the time.”
On the pre-Stilly Cup game excitement
“It seems like that’s what everyone wants to talk about. Even people just in passing, you see them: ‘Hey, I’ll see you Friday night. We’re traveling to Arlington.’ It’s always kind of fun. I think you can really feel the support around the school and around the community.”
“It’s really nice that it matters (because of the playoff implications). We’re both playing for something. That’s what you want. What a special game to have for that play-in type of game (against Arlington). You’ve got the rivalry, the Stilly Cup — you’ve got all these things going on. And then you’ve got the playoffs on top of it.”
“Whenever you play in one of those small-town rivalries, it’s electric. People really take it personal. In the city, it’s just like there’s a lot of other things to do. But out here, it’s us versus them and you hear about it all year long.”