Ferndale’s James Hinson scrambles through Oak Harbor’s defense Oct. 13, 2017, at Oak Harbor High School. Ferndale is projected to lead the Wesco 3A North division this year, with Oak Harbor trying to get the title. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Ferndale’s James Hinson scrambles through Oak Harbor’s defense Oct. 13, 2017, at Oak Harbor High School. Ferndale is projected to lead the Wesco 3A North division this year, with Oak Harbor trying to get the title. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Wesco 3A North Football Preview: Coaches poll/storylines

Arlington and Oak Harbor look to dethrone defending league champion Ferndale.

COACHES POLL

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

1. Ferndale (5) — 34

2. Arlington (2) — 30

3. Oak Harbor — 26

4. Squalicum — 24

5. Marysville Pilchuck — 15

6. Stanwood — 12

7. Marysville Getchell — 6

NOTE: Coaches weren’t allowed to vote for their own teams.

FAVORITE

Ferndale. The defending Wesco 3A North champions are coming off a trip to the state quarterfinals, where they fell to eventual state champion O’Dea, their only loss of the season. Aside from a one-point overtime win over Oak Harbor, Ferndale steamrolled the rest of its conference opponents last year, winning its other league games by at least 28 points. But after graduating eight of their nine all-conference selections from last season, the Golden Eagles have numerous key players to replace. It certainly helps to return 6-foot-5, 275-pound junior Geirean Hatchett, a standout two-way lineman with college offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and numerous other big-time programs. Calling the plays for Ferndale’s Wing-T offense will be former NFL quarterback and University of Washington standout Jake Locker. Locker, a 2006 Ferndale graduate, takes over as the Golden Eagles’ offensive coordinator after spending the past several seasons as an assistant coach.

Oak Harbor’s Tamarik Hollins-Passmore follows his blockers for yardage Oct. 20, 2017, against Arlington at Arlington High. The Wildcats and Eagles are projected to challenge Ferndale for the Wesco 3A North crown this year. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Oak Harbor’s Tamarik Hollins-Passmore follows his blockers for yardage Oct. 20, 2017, against Arlington at Arlington High. The Wildcats and Eagles are projected to challenge Ferndale for the Wesco 3A North crown this year. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

CONTENDERS

Arlington and Oak Harbor. With defending Wesco 3A North champion Ferndale having lost numerous key players to graduation, Arlington and Oak Harbor appear to be the best bets to challenge the Golden Eagles for the conference crown. Arlington was the only team other than Ferndale to receive first-place votes in the league’s preseason coaches poll, likely because of the return of standout senior quarterback Anthony Whitis. Oak Harbor reached the state playoffs last year and suffered its only conference defeat in a 29-28 overtime loss to Ferndale.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Can the Whitis-led Eagles claim the league crown?

Coming off a 6-4 season that ended with a Week 10 playoff loss to eventual state runner-up Rainier Beach, the Eagles graduated their top three receivers from last year and return just two starters on defense. But Arlington certainly benefits from the return of standout senior Anthony Whitis, who enters his second full season as the starting quarterback after throwing for 2,266 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last year to lead an offense that averaged 30.3 points per game. The Eagles, who suffered a 41-13 loss to Ferndale last season, host the defending league champ Sept. 21 in a game that could have major conference-title implications.

Is this the year Oak Harbor claims an ever-elusive outright league title?

The Wildcats have compiled a 32-7 conference record over the past seven seasons, but the only league title during that span came when they split the Wesco 3A North crown with Marysville Pilchuck in 2014. Oak Harbor has finished second in its league five of the past seven seasons, including last year. Oak Harbor is coming off a 9-2 campaign that ended with a loss to eventual state semifinalist Bellevue in the first round of the state playoffs. The Wildcats graduated their top three running backs from last season’s Wing-T rushing attack, but they return standout seniors Dorian Hardin (seven interceptions) and Aaron Martinez (104 tackles) from a defense that allowed just 15.5 points per game last year.

Can Marysville Pilchuck get back to its winning ways?

After capping a string of five state-playoff appearances in six years with a 2014 state-semifinal run, the Tomahawks have suffered through three consecutive losing seasons. That includes a 2-8 campaign last fall when a youth-laden Marysville Pilchuck squad managed just one conference victory and was outscored by 17.7 points per game in league play. With a more experienced team this season, the Tomahawks hope to make strides and get back to their winning ways.

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