The 2012 football season was somewhat of an anomaly in the Caribou Trail League because the teams didn’t have a lot of seniors.
Therefore, the vast majority of the squads will return more than half of their starters from a year ago.
That means that the teams will look pretty familiar in 2013. But does that mean, however, that they’ll finish in the same order that they finished in last year?
Some coaches think that could be a distinct possibility.
“There are many returners that you’d have to put (the teams) in the exact same order as they finished last year,” Okanogan coach Erick Judd said when asked about how he’d rank the CTL teams at the start of the fall. “Then we’ll just have to see who improved in the offseason (for any differences).”
If that’s the case, Cashmere will be favored to win its third consecutive CTL title. Cascade and Quincy, which along with the Bulldogs advanced to the 1A state tournament last season, should be considered strong contenders as well.
Last year, those three teams clearly separated themselves as the circuit’s top three squads by the end of the year, but this season, the league could feature more depth. Virtually every squad harbors legitimate postseason aspirations, which could mean that up to four teams could be fighting for two or three playoff spots during the final week of the season.
“Three years ago, people considered us as the best league in the state,” said Omak coach Nick Sackman. “I think we’re getting back to that. I think that the league, top to bottom, has no pushover. Every night, you’re going to have to bring (your best effort), or else you’re going to walk out with a loss.”
Cashmere may have lost the bulk of its rushing production from a year ago when Moe Roberts and Devin Knight graduated, but the Bulldogs will still feature a punishing running attack led by Rex Pittsinger, who moved to the offensive line last season but will return to the fullback position this fall. Quarterback Casey Ruether is perhaps the league’s best all-around player; slotbacks Dylan Boyd and Mason Elliott are great athletes, dangerous in space; and all-league tackle Jacob Allison will lead a strong offensive line.
“We’ll be just as fast (this year as we’ve been in past years),” said Bulldogs coach Phil Zukowski. “Casey is a great leader who runs the offense extremely well. I want him to do exactly what he’s been doing the last two years, which is an extreme compliment. We’ll see how the chips fall, but overall with the offensive line we’re starting off in a much better position that we did last year.”
On defense, Pittsinger, a linebacker, captains a unit that allowed just 91 points in the 2012 regular season. The senior was named as the league’s co-defensive player of the year last year.
The Bulldogs also have three defensive ends returning, and their secondary — featuring returners Ruether, Boyd, Elliott and Nathan Mashburn — should be the league’s beset.
“Rex is our call guy (on defense),” Zukowski said. “He makes the audible changes for us. Physically, emotionally and vocally, he leads our defense.”
Cascade enters the 2013 season looking strong, featuring speed, strength and experience. The Kodiaks should be improved at several positions, including quarterback (junior Austin Murdock is entering his second year as the starter) and offensive line, which will be anchored by stalwarts Michael Sorensen and Derek Crites. Running back Dennis Merritt is primed for a breakout year, and will become more of a focal part of the Kodiaks’ offense. Defensively, Cascade is strong at the linebacker position, where they return all-leaguer Noax Wood and Duncan Scott. “We’re going into the season with the mindset that we want to pick up where we left off last season,” said coach Elia Ala’ilima-Daley. “We had to play a lot of young guys last year, and we hope that they can improve and build on their success.” … Quincy surprised some people by advancing to the 1A state quarterfinal round last season, riding a punishing defense that gave up just 26 points during CTL play. The Jackrabbits lost all-league linebacker Armando Tafoya to graduation and all-league defensive end Carter Bushman to a preseason knee injury, but Quincy’s defense still returns plenty of talent, including linebacker Antonio Melendez and defensive lineman Jose Guardado-Chavez. “Defense is still going to be a strength of our team,” said head coach Stephen Wallace. “Last year we got into a groove when we moved some personnel around, and we’ve got a lot of those same guys back for this year.” Dallas Bassett will take over at quarterback, but Quincy will still be a running team, led by coach Wallace’s “three-headed monster” of Melenedez, John Lindquist and Andy Vargas, and four returning starting offensive linemen. … Several CTL coaches mentioned Okanogan as a team to watch out for this fall. The Bulldogs were extremely young last season, but posted a 5-5 season and qualified for postseason play. They have a burgeoning star in sophomore quarterback Clay Ashworth; a solid running back in three-year starter T.J. Morris; a dynamic wide receiver/defensive back threat in Justin Rivas; and a stout defense led by all-leaguers Jim Townsend and Arturo Ramos. The Bulldogs will have 10 starters back on both sides of the ball. “We hit the weights pretty good this offseason, and we hope to take it to the next level,” Judd said. “We have high expectations for this season.”
The dark horses
Chelan has a new head coach and a new outlook for this season. Travis Domser, an 18-year prep and college coaching veteran, comes to North Central Washington after serving as the defensive coordinator at Clovis East (Calif.) High School last season. The Goats missed the playoffs last year, and Domser will have to find answers to some questions early on, such as who will be his team’s starting quarterback, but the Goats do have talent, such as running back Kai Clausen and linemen Asa Schwartz and Jared Anderson. … Omak is looking to rebound after a forgettable 2012 campaign that was derailed by inexperience. Coach Nick Sackman is optimistic that his team can contend for a postseason spot this year because his players have spent more time in the weight room in an effort to become “more explosive.” The Pioneers allowed a staggering 442 points in 2012, so obviously defense will be a priority this fall. “Last year we gave up a lot of big plays,” Sackman said. “This year we’re working on assignment defense to take away the big play and make teams grind it out.” … Brewster also has a new coach — Jake Johanson will be the Bears’ fourth sideline leader in the past four years. His first goal is to bring some stability to the program, and he’s identified a core group of athletes that want to focus on football to improve the program as a whole. Easton Driessen, who sat out the 2012 season, returns and will most likely start at quarterback. Offensive lineman Hunter Bach is a returning all-leaguer, and the Bears have a pair of sophomore wideouts — Cade Smith and Mitch Boesel — that have serious potential. “The biggest thing we learned (from last year) is that we need to get into the weight room and get stronger,” Johanson said. “We’ve got a dedicated, solid core group of younger guys that are really working hard.” … Tonasket won four games last year, including contests with league foes Brewster and Omak, but unless the Tigers can upset one of the team’s in the league’s upper half, they’ll be hard pressed to contend for a playoff spot.