Two programs that have the utmost respect for each other.
Two teams that boast perhaps the top two players in the state, players who will be teammates for one game in a couple of months, and could square off against each other again in college.
And two coaches whose relationship has grown so much over the years, the son of one of the coaches is currently living in the house of the other coach.
It’s the Coeur d’Alene Vikings (9-2) the new-er kids on the state championship block, vs. the Highland Rams (9-1) of Pocatello, who have won more big-school state titles in football than anyone, in the state 5A championship game Friday at Holt Arena in Pocatello.
Kickoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. PST.
“Highland is a great team with a great tradition,” said Coeur d’Alene coach Shawn Amos, who has been the Vikings’ head coach since 1997. “Not much has changed with their schemes, which is one of the reasons they are so good at it.”
The teams last met during the 2015 regular season — the last meeting in a stretch of six games in four seasons between the two teams. Each won three of the games.
“They’re a lot like the teams of old — very similar in scheme and talent,” said Highland coach Gino Mariani, who has been the Rams’ head coach since 2001. “Every year they seems to come up with great kids, strong kids, athletic kids, and that’s what you see on film.”
Highland has won 10 state titles, and will be playing in its 18th state championship game. The Rams have won three titles under Mariani, most recently in 2014.
Coeur d’Alene has won five state championships, including three in four years (2010, ’11, ’13). The Vikings will be playing in their ninth state title game, and sixth under Amos, who has won three titles.
“I think it is also very rewarding for both of these programs being two of the smaller 5As in the state to be meeting once again in the title game,” Amos said.
Of the 24 5A schools in Idaho this year, Highland ranks 13th with an enrollment of 1,545. Coeur d’Alene is 21st with 1,392. The nine largest schools are all in the Boise area.
Coeur d’Alene quarterback Colson Yankoff and Highland defensive tackle Tommy Togiai are slated to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 6.
Yankoff, last year’s Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year, has passed for 2,228 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, and rushed for 936 yards and 11 scores — and that’s despite missing the first two games after recovering from a torn meniscus in his left knee suffered last spring.
“He throws the ball so accurately and quickly,” said Mariani, who coached against him in the 2015 game. “He throws into really tight windows. His receivers, their timing is impeccable. He makes things happen quick. He’s a hard guy to prepare for because he’s very athletic and he throws the ball on time ... he’s got all the intangibles.”
Yankoff has committed to the University of Washington.
Togiai, who is uncommitted, has offers from Ohio State and many of the top schools on the West Coast — including Washington.
“He’s a 6-3, 300-pound kid who runs a 4.9 40 and can bench press a house,” Mariani said.
“Togiai is a force,” Amos said. “Every game that you watch, you see him do things no other player can do.”
“I’ve never seen anything like him,” Mariani said. “He’s so fast sideline to sideline. He’s so fast, and his instincts are top notch. He sees a lot of double and triple teams, he’s seen schemes where teams keep their backs in to block him. But it does free up some other kids.”
In one game, Mariani said, the other team used two linemen to block him, and positioned a running back across from him, behind the linemen.
“A lot of times he’d split the two linemen and throw the back into the quarterback,” Mariani said.
The Highland coach said the matchup featuring Yankoff and Togiai “is special, neat for Idaho. Two very competitive kids that have led their team to the championship in different ways.”
“What a special opportunity to watch two of the best players in the country play on the same field for the state title,” Amos said. “Both players have great surrounding casts and take their teams to the next level.”
Behind a senior-laden offensive line led by left tackle and Air Force commit Noah Gunn, the Vikings have moved the ball equally well through the air as well as on the ground. Coeur d’Alene boasts a dandy one-two punch at running back in Caleb Beggerly (739 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Shiloh Morgan (767 yards, 11 TDs). Forty of the Vikings’ 64 touchdowns have come on the ground.
Seven Vikings have caught 18 or more passes, led by Sam Matheson (40 receptions, 268 yards, two TDs), Boise State commit Cole Ramseyer (37, 535, 5 TDs), Derek Gove (32, 247, 3 TDs) and Kyler Prendergast (31, 518, 5 TDs).
Defensively, the Vikings are led by linebacker Ross Chadderdon (116 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 7 1/2 sacks). The Vikings have 14 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
Highland junior quarterback Kobe Tracy has thrown for 2,356 yards this season, with 22 TDs and 11 interceptions.
Junior Landon Demuzio has rushed for 668 yards and 12 touchdowns, and junior Jesus Garcia has run for 434 yards and five TDs.
Senior tight end Sam Liday has 48 catches for 643 yards and five touchdowns, and Demuzio has 40 catches for 484 yards and seven TDs.
Amos and Mariani have kept in contact over the years, especially when they were playing six times in four seasons.
In August, Amos’ son, Gunnar, transferred from Idaho to Idaho State, which is located in Pocatello. Because of the lateness of the move, Gunnar had a hard time finding housing.
“I told him he could stay with us until he found an apartment,” Mariani said. “Then, after looking around and not finding anything, I said ‘Why don’t you stay through the first semester?’”
Mariani said Gunnar has worked out pretty good as a houseguest.
“He’s a good kid,” Mariani said. “We talk football. If I had to come home and vent, he listens, because he’s a coach’s son.”
Shawn and his wife, Kelly, have been making the trek to Pokey for ISU’s home games. Sometimes, they stay with the Marianis.
“They took him (Gunnar) in and have treated him like family,” Shawn said. “This act of kindness is something we will never forget.”
Because of that, Shawn Amos and Gino Mariani have talked a lot the past few months.
“About a month ago we talked about, ‘Let’s meet in the Dome in November,’” Mariani said.
“And here we are.”