The 2019 high school football season kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday with a non-conference contest between visiting West Valley of Yakima against Kamiakin at Lampson Stadium.
It’s a rematch from last year’s opener in Yakima, in which West Valley’s Rams beat the Braves 17-9.
The game will feature two sophomore starting quarterbacks: Isaac Madrigal for West Valley and Henry Mercado for Kamiakin.
Madrigal never faced the Kamiakin varsity last year, but he did play against the Braves freshman team.
Yet by mid-season, Rams head coach Dan Eyman promoted Madrigal to the starting varsity position, and he excelled with 641 yards passing and eight TD passes against three interceptions.
Madrigal completed 59 percent of his passes, and his 148 QB rating ranked second in the Big Nine Conference last season.
Mercado won the starting job in preseason camp for the Braves, but head coach Scott Biglin said last year’s starter, Lucas Castilleja, will also see some playing time.
Three other things to watch Thursday night
1. Can West Valley defend Kamiakin’s Tuna Altahir?
At 6-foot, 215 pounds, Altahir is bigger and stronger this season, and he’ll be tough to bring down. Rams LB Jordan Bickler will spearhead the defense’s effort to contain the speedy junior.
2. What about Kamiakin’s receiving corps?
Mercado and Castilleja will have plenty of guys to throw to, starting with Messiah Jones, Kellen Rutz and Woodley Downard. So the Rams D will have plenty of other concerns than just Altahir.
3. Madrigal to Van de Brake will be a big combo
Kamiakin defensive coordinator Ryan Carter has been planning this week how to maintain Madrigal and Jack Van de Brake, who is an outstanding receiver. Last season, he caught 46 passes for 693 yards, and he was named first-team Big Nine at the position. Guys like Tanner Sullins on the line will have to put pressure on Madrigal.
The Herald will look at the rest of the area’s football openers in Friday’s paper.
The first Washington High School Cross Country polls, as voted on by the coaches, was released this week. The Kamiakin boys got the nod for the top Class 3A team, while the Kamiakin girls were picked second in 3A.
Connell’s boys were the only other area team to be ranked. The Eagles open the season at No. 9 in the 1A boys rankings.
Walla Walla’s boys (Class 4A) and Royal’s girls (1A) received votes in their polls, but didn’t crack the Top 10.
Here are the top-ranked boys teams in each classification: Tahoma (4A), Kamiakin (3A), Sehome (2A), Cascade-Leavenworth (1A), and Northwest Christian of Lacey (1B/2B).
The top girls teams are: Camas (4A), North Central (3A), West Valley-Spokane (2A), Lakeside-Nine Mile Falls (1A), and Liberty Bell (1B/2B).
The WIAA Cross Country Championships are set for Saturday, Nov. 9, at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
Dust Devils start postseason
Congratulations to the Tri-City Dust Devils, who made the Northwest League playoffs for the first time since 2015. The Dust Devils will play the Spokane Indians in a best-of-3 series, which began Wednesday night in Spokane.
Game 2 will be at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Gesa Stadium. And Game 3, if necessary, will also be at Gesa Stadium, set for 7:15 p.m. Friday.
Spokane won both the first and second halves in the Northern Division, finishing with an overall record of 45-31.
Tri-City gets in because it has the next best overall record in the North at 38-38.
Spokane is led by Blaine Crim, who led the Northwest League with a .335 batting average. He was also named the MVP of the league. Teammate Kellen Strahm was No. 10 in league batting average at .278.
Kelvin Melean leads the Dust Devils with a .308 batting average, which was second best behind Crim.
Tri-City manager Mike McCoy already set his starters for the series, going with Jason Blanchard in the opener. Ethan Elliott gets the nod for Game 2 on Thursday, while Nick Thwaits would start Game 3.
Spokane would look to be the favorite, but here’s the deal: The Dust Devils match up well with the Indians. In the 18 regular-season games they played against each other, Tri-City won 10.
Othello’s Perez should be fun to watch
Of all the high school football players in the Mid-Columbia region this fall, Othello’s Isaiah Perez might just be the best.
An all-star at running back and defensive end, Perez has already committed to playing for BYU next fall.
His coach, Roger Hoell, says he’s the real deal.
“He has dedicated himself to be the best player and person he can be,” said Hoell in an email to the Herald. “Isaiah has invested in the game of football throughout his life, which has developed him into an outstanding football player.
“Isaiah makes those around him better,” added Hoell. “He comes from a great bloodline as his uncles, Ryan and Eddie Keele, had distinguished college careers at BYU. His accomplishments speak for themselves, which tells you who he is. He is not only an athlete, but a student, and he is our school’s ASB president.”
Football isn’t the only sport starting this weekend.
Cross country gets going with a Hanford Jamboree at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Leslie Groves Park in Richland, while Kennewick and Pasco compete in a non-league meet at Hermiston on Saturday.
Kamiakin kicks off the girls soccer season with a non-league match against Gonzaga Prep at 7 p.m. Friday at Richland High’s soccer field.
On Saturday, MCC play already begins with three matches: Hanford at Kennewick, Lampson Stadium, at 11 a.m.; Hermiston vs. Kamiakin, 3 p.m., at Lampson Stadium; and Pasco vs. Chiawana at noon at Edgar Brown Stadium.
Almost every school with a girls swim team will be at George Prout Pool in Richland for the annual Richland Twilight Meet at 4 p.m. Friday.
And the majority of our area’s big-school volleyball teams will open the season with a jamboree at Richland High School starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, with one exception: Walla Walla visits Hermiston at 1 p.m. Saturday to open MCC play.
Jeff Morrow is the former sports editor of the Herald.