There are some who might suggest that the Lind-Ritzville/Sprague football team has arrived a year earlier than expected.
After all, the Broncos start four juniors, two sophomores and even had to resort to starting two freshmen because of injuries in their 21-7 win over Waitsburg-Prescott in the State 2B semifinals last week.
“We might be a little bit ahead of schedule,” LRS coach Greg Whitmore allowed. “But this junior class is a special bunch. They got a lot of playing time last year. We knew this could be a special year.”
The Broncos have achieved that regardless of the outcome of the state championship game Friday. That’s when LRS (12-0) takes on No. 1-ranked Morton-White Pass (12-0) at 4 in the Tacoma Dome.
The Timberwolves of Morton-White Pass were in much the same situation last year that the Broncos find themselves in this year. They took a junior-rich team to Tacoma where they fell short against Waitsburg-Prescott 33-7.
Before LRS was besieged with injuries, the Broncos started three seniors on offense and five on defense. They lost three offensive linemen in the quarterfinals, and Whitmore had to scramble to piece together a line.
So he called on a freshman middle linebacker, all of 160 pounds, and a freshman junior varsity running back, all of 153 pounds, to start at right guard and right tackle.
“We had to adjust the play calling,” Whitmore said, laughing.
Whitmore was hopeful a couple of injured players will be available Friday.
Junior Dylan Hartz, a two-year starter at quarterback who also started at wide receiver as a freshman, praised the youngsters.
“They did well,” Hartz said. “There were some minor things that are easy to fix. If they’re in there this week they’ll play their hardest and help us get the win.”
Hartz never played better this season than he did last Saturday. A two-way starter, the free safety picked off two passes including returning one 38 yards for a touchdown. He also recovered a fumble, and he threw for 238 yards and a TD.
“I haven’t had a game like that since junior high,” Hartz said.
Hartz said the key against the run-first Timberwolves, who shut out La Conner 12-0 last week, is making them do something they don’t want to do.
“La Conner stopped the run but couldn’t defend the pass,” Hartz said. “That will be the attitude, stop the run. We want to let the defense do what we’ve been doing all year.”
Whitmore said stopping the pass will fall on the shoulders of Hartz and junior safety Connor O’Neill.
“With Dylan, the bigger the game the bigger he plays,” Whitmore said. “In games like this you need your best players to step up.”
O’Neill will also be counted on for big plays when he runs or catches the ball.
LRS has allowed just one touchdown in the first quarter this season and that came in the quarterfinals against DeSales.
“We’ve been able to get leads all year long,” Hartz said. “We want to go get a lead and rely on our defense because our defense has been pretty stout.”
The last time the Broncos played in the state title game, in 2004, they won.
“All I know is we’ve earned the opportunity,” Whitmore said. “We’re going in as a big underdog, but that doesn’t mean anything to our kids. I don’t mind being in that role. Our kids know we’re a pretty good team.”
Whitmore recalled playing in Kingbowl V back when the current Gridiron Classic format was staged at the Kingdome. “I played for Entiat,” Whitmore said. “We played in the eight-man game against Tekoa. We got smoked. The interesting part is that Mike Lynch, then coach of Ritzville, lost to Morton in the 11-man game before us. About 10 years later, I became Mike Lynch’s assistant and here in 2012, Mike Lynch is my assistant and Ritzville plays Morton again – although we have added some towns and hyphens.”