THE FRONT ROW WITH JASON ELLIOTT: Not quite the season we wanted

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Getting that phone call on Monday night from Kootenai High football coach Doug Napierala left me feeling a little nostalgic.

Here we are, the start of the high school football season — coming next Friday — why not get a little excited?

Then, hearing from Napierala that the school, location on the Harrison Flats, won’t be able to field a team this year due to low participation.

That’s a little tough.

A LITTLE bit of a back story for you.

For nearly eight years, I was a sports writer in Shoshone County, where I’d cover the three area schools — Kellogg, Wallace and Mullan — on a daily basis.

In fact, in a little bit of a hiatus from the business, there was one night I had cooked Napierala’s dinner at a restaurant, then took the report of the team’s game against Wallace the next night.

But back to football — some of those football games against Mullan were some of the best 8-man football games I’ve ever seen.

In one instance in 2003, it came down to Mullan and Kootenai in a Kansas tiebreaker to determine the team to advance to the state playoffs. Little did either team know at that time, they had to play in a driving snowstorm, with the field at Teeters Field in Kellogg blanketed in snow. Mullan ended up winning that night on a touchdown by somebody that nobody could identify in the paper that next day.

A few years later, Kootenai hosted Mullan in the final regular season game for both schools. On that night, Kootenai scored 46 points in the first quarter, and the game was called at halftime due to the 45-point mercy rule. It was a good thing, because it might have been a lot worse had they played in the second half.

But the following week, with a constant rain hitting the area and turning the field in Harrison Flats into a mud pit, Mullan stunned Kootenai 26-22 in the opening round of the state playoffs.

In 2016, with numbers being an issue in Mullan, the teams scheduled a 6-man game at John Drager Field in Mullan, with Kootenai winning 74-30 on that day. It was Mullan’s first home game in a year after having to cancel its season in 2015.

Have you ever witnessed an offensive lineman catching a touchdown pass? Throwing to a lineman, it was legal that day.

THIS YEAR was supposed to mark the rebirth of the North Star League for the first time since 2013, with the league champion advancing to the state playoffs.

Kootenai was the last North Star League to qualify for the state playoffs, in 2013, capping a run of eight straight appearances since 2006. Kootenai advanced to the state 1A Division II championship game in 2008 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, finishing the season 11-1.

Kootenai advanced to the semifinals in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

It was quite the playoff run for the program in that time, even hosting Salmon River and Leighton Vander Esch, the current Dallas Cowboy linebacker, in the Warriors’ last playoff appearance at home in 2013.

Hopefully sometime soon, Kootenai gets that chance to do it again.

Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached by telephone at (208) 664-8176, Ext. 2020 or via email at Follow him on Twitter @JECdAPress.

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