KIMBERLY — A four-team conference leaves little room for error.
In the Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference, only two of its four football teams are guaranteed spots in the 3A state playoffs. Win two or three conference games, and you’re in. Win one, and you’re path to state is icy, if not frozen.
That small margin of error magnifies each game, and the stakes don’t get much higher than Friday’s game at Kimberly High School.
The Bulldogs (4-2) host Buhl (3-3) in the second SCIC game of the season for both teams. Kimberly has dominated Buhl this decade, but the Indians head into Friday’s game facing a bit less pressure. For the Bulldogs, this is literally a must-win game.
“Our postseason hopes are on the line this week, so we’ve gotta come out and perform well,” Kimberly coach Rich Bishop said on this week’s Magic Valley Sports Podcast.
The math is simple. Buhl is 1-0 in SCIC play with two games remaining, both in conference. Kimberly is 0-1, also with two conference games left.
If the Bulldogs win Friday, they’ll own the playoff tiebreaker over Buhl and need a win over a struggling Filer team to secure a playoff berth. The Indians would need to beat Gooding, the third-ranked 3A team in the state, and hope Filer beats Kimberly to secure a playoff spot. Otherwise, they would have to hope for an at-large bid to reach the state tournament.
If Buhl wins on Friday, all of that minutia goes out the window. Buhl would clinch a playoff berth, and Kimberly would be staring at slim at-large chance. Those are the only possibilities.
“It’s on everybody’s minds,” Buhl coach Seth Blick said on the podcast. “What we’re trying to focus on is having that mindset of a 5-1 Buhl Indians rather than a 3-3 Buhl Indians. I think that having that sort of confidence kinda helps you get through and overlook the pressure that is obviously there.”
While the Bulldogs have more on the line Friday night, they have recent history on their side. The Indians haven’t defeated Kimberly since 2009, and they lost to last year’s Bulldogs, who had a strong senior class, 43-14.
Kimberly has also received votes in the media poll throughout the season, and it wouldn’t go away in a 28-20 loss to Gooding. It goes into a home game Friday against a team still trying to build steam after an 0-8 2015 season.
“We look at ourselves a little bit of an underdog, but that also give us some sort of an edge to go out and prove something,” Blick said.
The Bulldogs’ strengths lie in their offensive and defensive lines, and sophomore running back McKade Huft is one of the most fearsome big play threats in the area.
Buhl is led by senior quarterback Austin Azevedo, and talent sprinkles the other areas of the field. Lack of depth has contributed to its lukewarm season so far.
“They throw a lot of different things at you that you have to prepare for, and I think that keeps team off-balance at times,” Bishop said. “We’ve gotta prepare well this week.”
The Indians can bury the memories from their losses to Burley, Declo and Wood River (last week) with a win Friday. Buhl’s seniors were freshmen the last time the Indians made the playoffs, so they’re not trying to quench a long drought.
“This is where we wanted to be,” Blick said.
Kimberly has enjoyed a successful fall, considering the talent it lost. But the season hinges on Friday’s game.
“Is there pressure on this game? Absolutely,” Bishop said. “They need to know that. They need to understand that we’ve gotta play with a sense of urgency.”