BOISE — Chris Culig is really trying to forget about last season.
“Trying” is the key word for the Rocky Mountain football coach. It didn’t help that his team went unbeaten (8-0) again — this time at Saturday’s 10th annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 7 on 7 Tournament at the Optimist Youth Sports Complex.
The reigning 5A state champions defeated Mountain View 37-34 on a last-second 4-yard touchdown pass from Colby Jackson to Kaden Birch to win the event for the first time in program history, evoking thoughts of another unblemished season.
The Grizzlies haven’t lost on Idaho soil since Nampa beat them at last year’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 7 on 7 Tournament.
“Everybody wants to keep talking about it, but we got to carve out our own path,” Culig said. “We’re a different team altogether. We have high expectations to compete for a state championship every year, so that’s no different. But I keep telling them, what we did last year doesn’t have any impact on what we’ll do this year. We got a tough road.”
“Tough” may be an understatement.
Three of Rocky Mountain’s’ first four games are against teams that made the playoffs last season. The Grizzlies are also away from the comfort of their own stadium for their first two games in pivotal showdowns against Borah and the team they barely held on to beat in the finals Saturday, Mountain View.
History is not on their side as well. No 5A Southern Idaho Conference team has repeated since the IHSAA starting sponsoring the tournament in 1979.
But Rocky Mountain couldn’t care less.
“We’re used to all the pressure. That’s the Rocky standard,” Jackson said. “We’re used to being number one and we know everyone’s going to hunt for us, but we’re ready.”
Rocky Mountain is still arguably the favorite again. The Grizzlies bring back 31 lettermen from a team that won a second state championship in four years. The perfect season (12-0) was the first in program history and in the classification in four years.
The Grizzlies have nine starters back on defense, including linemen Henry Wolthuis and Jarrel Lucas, who both earned All-SIC first-team honors last season. The defense could be key. Rocky Mountain had the state’s top-ranked defense last year. The Grizzlies allowed the fewest points (13) and rushing yards (74) per game to go along with the most total takeaways (39).
The offense, which had the state’s third best rushing attack (222 yards per game) and the fifth best offense (37.5 points per game) last year, should be good, too, even without last year’s SIC Offensive Player of the Year, Nick Romano, who ran for 2,211 yards with 32 touchdowns and is at the University of Idaho.
“Jordan Erickson, our (new) tailback, will blow up this year, mark my words,” Jackson said.
Rocky Mountain has six starters back, and the biggest is 6-foot-2, 277-pound senior lineman Gerritt Tamminga, who already has a lot of Division I interest. Jackson will be a three-year starter, Birch has emerged as a legit No 1 wideout and Meridian High transfer Devan Fox can play any position on the field.
“I think that we’re very talented, if not more talented than last year, which should tell everyone something,” Jackson said.
The junior varsity team also won with a 38-7 rout of Homedale.
Capital High won the tug-o-war and the lineman challenge for the third year in a row.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, will continue with their summer workouts until dead week Aug. 2-11. Their first practice will be Aug. 12. They open the season against Borah on Aug. 29 at Dona Larsen Park.
“All we’re thinking about is Borah right now,” senior defensive back Braden Cureton said. “We’re just going to play our game and everything else we will worry about later.”