Who: Issaquah VS. Skyline
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25
Where: Issaquah High School, 700 2nd Ave SE
What’s at stake: A 4A KingCo Crown Division title, a place in next week’s conference title game, which carries an automatic berth to the round of 32, and of course, local bragging rights for the Issaquah School District rivals.
After a 51-26 loss to O’Dea in the third week of the season that left his team emotionally drained and physically dented, Issaquah football coach Chris Bennett knew the most important thing was to keep them focused on the big picture.
Despite suffering a pair of losses over the first three weeks, and with its only win coming over lowly 3A foe Interlake, Bennett knew the entire conference slate remained and along with it, plenty of opportunities to rinse the sour taste and make another run at the playoffs.
“We weren’t far away, we just had to keep getting better every week,” he said. “The biggest thing was to keep them positive. They all bought in and believed and now we’re here where we want to be, with a chance to play for the division title.”
When co-division leader Skyline travels down the hill Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Issaquah High School, the Eagles get their biggest opportunity yet.
Both teams enter the game with flawless 4A KingCo Crown records, with the winner earning an automatic berth to the round of 32 and spot in the conference title game next week. Both have had plenty of success in 3A and 4A KingCo and on the postseason stage during the past decade. But as far as the rivalry between the two district foes and the ultimate measure of elite status, state titles, the results have been one-sided.
The Spartans are the defending KingCo champs and have taken two of the past three conference titles. Issaquah has never captured the division championship or played in the title game as a member of 4A KingCo.
Skyline owns seven state titles since 2000, including the past two. Issaquah, despite opening two decades before its Plateau neighbor, has been to only a pair of championship games and has never brought home a first place trophy from the Tacoma Dome.
Even more frustrating is a losing streak for the Eagles against the Spartans that dates to 2006 and has all too often reared its ugly head at the most inconvenient times.
The most gut-wrenching defeat came in the 2008 4A state title game, where Skyline beat Issaquah for the second time on the year after overcoming a late lead, 20-15 to deny the Eagles the program’s first state championship while collecting their fourth in the process.
Skyline has done nothing but blow away foes and collect three more titles since, also finishing second in 2010 after a 24-16 loss to Ferris.
But even with a pedigree that has carried it to a place among the state’s elite, Spartans’ head coach Mat Taylor said the intensity for this rivalry has never waned.
“The most important game is when you play your rivals,” he said, adding he remembered watching this year’s senior classes match up on their respective freshmen teams three years ago, a narrow Skyline win. “They know the importance of this rivalry and not to take anything for granted.”
The Spartans entered 2013 as the two time defending kings of the 4A mountain, while Issaquah has bowed-out in the play-in round each of the past two seasons. The last time the Eagles made a state tournament run, it was none other than Skyline there to end their season in a 42-21 quarterfinal game in 2010, another game in which Issaquah had a halftime lead.
None of that is lost on Bennett, who enters the game 0-7 against the team from up the hill in his five seasons as head coach, nor his seniors, which have beaten Skyline in junior varsity football but not under the Friday night lights.
“I feel like we’ve been the little brother to Skyline,” Issaquah senior captain Shay Dingfelder said. “Obviously, it would be a program changing win.”
Both coaches said the opposition has taken on a slightly different identity than in past years, with Issaquah quarterback Jack Neary and a stable of receivers opening up the passing game more for the Eagles and dual-threat signal caller Kilton Anderson giving the Spartans an option in the run game they did not have under previous pocket passers Max Browne and Jake Heaps.
“The quarterback is super athletic,” Bennett said. “He makes so many plays and that is the first thing we have to stop.”
Taylor said the Eagles present a number of challenges with Neary, whom he called “a tremendous quarterback,” along with running back Jack Gellatly and a host of receivers Bennett has repeatedly lauded as his deepest group ever.
On the other side of the ball, Anderson and the running game have taken a far more prominent role than in recent Skyline offenses. The senior transfer has thrown seven touchdowns on the year and rushed for 10 more, while running backs Chandler Wong and Rashaad Boddie have combined for more than 600 yards and 11 more scores on the ground.
Both have already secured playoff spots regardless of tonight’s result, and each will have a chance to upend a Crest Division foe to begin the postseason. But with local bragging rights, a spot in the KingCo title game and round of 32 on the line, neither is understating the momentum the winner will carry along.
“It is another game, but it isn’t,” Bennett said. “We just have to stay focused.”