High School Football

NWC football schedule a difficult grind

Lynden's Jordan Wittenberg is pursued by Squalicum's Damek Mitchell on Friday, Sept. 18, at Lynden High School in Lynden.
Lynden's Jordan Wittenberg is pursued by Squalicum's Damek Mitchell on Friday, Sept. 18, at Lynden High School in Lynden. The Bellingham Herald

If parity exists in high school football it dwells within the Northwest Conference.

The bottom line is the league always has produced top-caliber teams. Look at what Meridian, Ferndale, Lynden and Mount Baker have claimed, a hefty collection of state playoff appearances and championships.

But what’s become apparent, especially of late, is no team can afford to take a week off once league play begins.

A two-week period during Weeks 7 and 8 last year proved as much.

“It’s a great league, top to bottom,” second-year Squalicum coach Nick Lucey said. “It goes starting up at the border and going all the way down to Anacortes and Burlington. You can’t take a week off. There are a lot of good teams, evidenced by, shoot, Ferndale goes and knocks off Lynden and then (the next week) Sehome knocks off Ferndale. I mean, anybody can beat anybody at any given time.”

The league’s talent was displayed a year ago when four Class 2A teams (Lynden, Squalicum, Burlington-Edison and Sedro-Woolley) reached the state quarterfinals, and in the 1A ranks, Meridian showed the four-team league’s unpredictability by splitting games with Mount Baker, Lynden Christian and Nooksack Valley.

And last week Squalicum and Burlington-Edison offered a reminder of just how treacherous navigating the NWC schedule can be. The Storm knocked off Lynden, the 2A state runner-ups, and Burlington beat Sedro-Woolley, the defending state champs.

“All the kids run, hit, they are fundamentally sound,” Sehome coach Bob Norvell said. “It’s a tough grind.”

Indeed it is.

What makes the league so tough top to bottom, though? Is it the players, coaches, community support for each respective program?

Truthfully, it’s a bit of all three.

“I have a lot of respect for the coaches in this league,” Lynden coach Curt Kramme said. “I think the quality of football is really high, and a lot of that is because of their leadership, so I’m sure the other guys are preparing just as hard as we are, and I think that is why you see some pretty high-quality football in this league.”

Longtime Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich credited continuity with a blend of intelligent, new coaches as one of the major contributing factors to the league’s depth.

Coaches such as Kramme, Plenkovich, Mount Baker’s Ron Lepper, Meridian’s Bob Ames and Blaine’s Jay Dodd have planted their roots in their programs and have put strong systems in place for years. And new coaches such as Lucey and Norvell have enjoyed early success. Sedro-Woolley’s Dave Ward has made several coaching stops, but has won nearly everywhere he’s been.

“You have some guys that have been doing it for a long time at a high level,” Plenkovich said, “so I think it starts from there and you just see it makes everyone else in the league really step it up. You know the teams you are playing are going to be well prepared and well coached every single week.”

Playing the 2A/3A seven-week league schedule can be a blessing and a burden.

While some teams, who in other leagues might be strong enough to reach the postseason, don’t get a chance to play once the regular season ends, the ones who come out of the conference slate on top completed the ultimate state football playoff preparation.

“Once you get to the playoffs, for us last year, you get to the playoffs and you’re ready to see whatever you are going to see at that point,” Lucey said. “You’ve been playing playoff-caliber football all year.”

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @andyde44 on Twitter for updates.

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