Marysville Getchell’s Dylan Rice is tackled out of bounds as he reaches for the end zone during the game on Oct. 5, 2018 in Marysville. The Chargers are looking for their first Berry Bowl victory after losing the first seven contests with rival Marysville Pilchuck. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Marysville Getchell’s Dylan Rice is tackled out of bounds as he reaches for the end zone during the game on Oct. 5, 2018 in Marysville. The Chargers are looking for their first Berry Bowl victory after losing the first seven contests with rival Marysville Pilchuck. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Wesco 3A North football preview: Coaches poll and storylines

The Whatcom County schools are favored again, and two conference teams could use a rivalry-game win.

COACHES POLL

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

1. Squalicum (4) — 5.7

2. Ferndale (2) — 5

3. Arlington — 4.4

4. Marysville Pilchuck — 3

5. Oak Harbor — 2.8

T-6. Marysville Getchell — 1.6

T-6. Stanwood — 1.6

Note: Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team. One coach chose not to participate in the voting.

FAVORITE: Squalicum. The Storm are coming off their fourth state-playoff appearance in the past five seasons and are the early favorite to earn a third Wesco 3A North title in the past four seasons. Squalicum has posted a 13-5 record in league play since joining the conference for football only after moving up from Class 2A during the 2016-2020 reclassification cycle. The Storm return four all-conference selctions from a team that outscored opponents 36.3 to 17.5 while going 5-1 against conference foes. Squalicum had just 11 seniors on its 2018 roster.

CONTENDER: Ferndale. The Golden Eagles have also enjoyed their short run in Wesco 3A North since 2016. Ferndale won a league title in 2017 and have an even better league record than Squalicum over three seasons at 14-4. The Golden Eagles have made the state playoffs in two of the past three seasons and have made it to a Week 10 playoff matchup the past four years. Ferndale has the league’s toughest non-conference schedule and will certainly be battle tested when it opens league play at Marysville Getchell on Sept. 20.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Will a local team dethrone the schools from up North?

Since joining Wesco as football-only members in 2016, Squalicum and Ferndale have found much success while combining to win all three Wesco 3A North league titles from 2016-18. Squalicum finished atop the standings in 2016 with an unbeaten conference record, handing Ferndale its lone loss in league play. In 2017, the Storm took a step back and went 2-4 in league play as Ferndale ran through the conference unbeaten. Last season, Squalicum regained its league supremacy while posting a 5-1 record as Ferndale dropped back to 3-3. Both squads appear to be prominent contenders for a league title this season, and if a local team is going to end the reign of the schools up north, it will likely be a squad that exceeds preseason expectations.

Arlington graduated a slew of talented offensive playmakers, who helped the Eagles pull out a number of wild finishes en route to a 4-2 conference record and a Week 10 playoff berth. Oak Harbor, which also finished a game behind Squalicum in 2018, is seemingly in a transition year after the departure of longtime coach Jay Turner and the introduction of an entirely new offensive scheme. Marysville Pilchuck’s two-back tandem that piled up the bulk of the Tomahawks’ yardage on offense has graduated. Marysville Getchell is coming off its third-ever five-win season, but must replace its offensive centerpiece at quarterback, and Stanwood was outscored by an average of 20.7 points while going 0-6 in Wesco 3A North matchups last season.

Can one of these teams get on the winning side of their one-sided rivalry games?

It’s been nearly a decade since Stanwood beat Arlington in the battle for the Stilly Cup. Marysville Getchell has never topped Marysville Pilchuck in the Berry Bowl. At some point, something’s gotta give, right?

Arlington was completely dominant during the first two-thirds of its nine-game Stilly Cup winning streak. The Eagles outscored the Spartans 260-54 over their first six victories while shutting Stanwood out three times and posting 50 or more points three times. The past three seasons, though, the Spartans have closed the gap, but can’t quite get one over on their Stillaguamish River rival. A late fourth-quarter interception on a potential game-winning drive doomed Stanwood in 2016’s 28-26 loss. A blocked field goal as time expired allowed Arlington to hold on for a 28-27 win in 2017, and last season Stanwood couldn’t get the stop it needed to get a chance to complete a late comeback attempt and send the game into overtime in a 21-13 loss.

The Berry Bowl hasn’t been quite as dramatic. MP has simply outclassed the rival Chargers on the gridiron since MG’s program started in 2011. While the Chargers were working to build their program from scratch early in the decade, the Tomahawks were a strong, established program in the midst of making four state playoff appearances in five seasons from 2009-2013 and winning five league titles over seven seasons from 2008-2014. So early dominance from the Tomahawks was to be expected. The Chargers just haven’t been able to close the gap while their rival’s success on the field has tempered. The teams started playing in 2012, and MP has won all seven contests, six by 30 or more points.

“Obviously I think that’s kind of a monkey we’ve been trying to get off our back,” Marysville Getchell coach Davis Lura said. “I think, in all honesty, it would alleviate a lot of pressure. … I think that’s just one of those games that kids want to win so bad that I think after we get a win (against) them, they can relax a little bit.”

New era, new look for Oak Harbor

Marcus Hughes takes over the Wildcats’ program after longtime head coach Jay Turner stepped down after 12 seasons, a 2007 conference title and three state playoff appearances. Hughes is bringing a new-look spread offense to an Oak Harbor squad that for years has been associated with a powerful Wing-T rushing attack.

“Going to a school that’s ran the Wing-T for basically almost the last two decades, the biggest thing to me is there wasn’t a lot of skill development,” Hughes said. “… When you walk into a program that’s run the spread for several years, you’ve got guys that understand certain concepts that have been running routes and doing stuff. Here it’s like brand-new foreign concepts to the majority of these guys. They’ve done a really good job of picking it up. Obviously with me coming in late, we’re already behind the eight-ball. We’re playing catch-up. I think we’re going to get better each week.

“Like I said, the kids have been great. The one good thing about it is that there’s a lot of athletes here, so it’s just putting kids in the right position to be successful and finding out who can do what and who’s gonna be good at what.”

Hughes said the team is young, which is ample for introducing the new scheme and developing it in the program. And although this may be somewhat of a transitional period for the Wildcats — who have only one varsity assistant returning from the prior coaching regime — Hughes still feels the squad will be competitive in the league.

“It’s a big change,” Hughes said. “We’ll definitely have growing pains like with anything, but I’m excited about the future and I’m excited about the kids and what we’ve got going on.”

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