TWIN FALLS — Sean Impomeni arrived at Canyon Ridge High School in 2014 with baseline knowledge of the Riverhawks’ athletic rivalry.
Canyon Ridge opened in 2009 with a student body that otherwise would have attended Twin Falls High School. Five years later, a natural rivalry formed between the two Twin Falls schools.
Impomeni moved from Caldwell in 2014 to become the head football coach at Canyon Ridge. His job was to improve the football team, and, hey, if he could beat Twin Falls in the process, that sure would be nice.
“That first year coming from another town, I didn’t really understand the depth of the rivalry like I do now,” Impomeni said on this week’s Magic Valley Sports Podcast.
Impomeni knew the Service Bowl would be intense, but not that intense. Was this the sixth game between the Riverhawks and Bruins or the 60th?
Impomeni’s initial surprise didn’t slow his team down. Canyon Ridge won 45-23.
On Friday night, the Canyon Ridge and Twin Falls will meet for the ninth time. Three years after the Riverhawks broke through, they’re still looking for Service Bowl win No. 2.
“This is a business of, ‘What have you done for me lately?’, so I don’t hang my hat on anything,” Impomeni said. “I hang it on going to work every day and trying to make my team the best version of themselves they can be.”
Twin Falls might have the historical edge over its western rival, but the Bruins and Riverhawks have played pretty evenly this season.
Both teams are 1-2 and have struggled to score. The Bruins ignited in the second half of last week’s 36-0 win over Wood River, but they scored just 35 points in the first 10 quarters of the season.
Canyon Ridge has scored 35 points this season, total. The historically run-first Riverhawks have struggled on the ground so far, Impomeni said, and they have good excuses.
In their season-opening 22-14 loss to Columbia, three starting linemen went down with injuries. None of those three — seniors Preston Eilers and Bryck Morrison, and sophomore Nate Maxfield — have played since. Two might return this week, but one is out for the season (Impomeni wouldn’t specify who).
Canyon Ridge has since converted senior tight end Izak Cuellar to tackle, and wide receiver Jesse Hicks played guard the last two weeks.
“We’ve been piecing together an offensive line,” Impomeni said.
Fortunately for the Riverhawks, the defense has kept them in games.
After the close loss to Columbia, they beat Ridgevue 14-7. Last week’s 38-7 loss to Shelley looks defensively unimpressive, but two Russet touchdowns were scored on a pick-six and following a fumble.
“Our defense is playing well because they’re running to the football, they’re tackling as a team,” Impomeni said. “It’s something we haven’t seen for a couple years.”
The Bruins followed up a 40-7 season-opening loss to Vallivue with a 28-20 loss to Pocatello and last week’s Great Basin Conference shutout. They’re headed in the right direction, but Twin Falls head coach Allyn Reynolds isn’t predicting another blowout.
Among the 2016 seniors now graduated were quarterback Zach Malina, running back Efrain Contreras and receiver Peyton Richardson. The Bruins’ inexperienced offense will be tested by Canyon Ridge’s defense, and vice versa. Among Twin Falls’ key returning defenders are linebackers Ryder Deloera and Bentley Swensen, and defensive ends Connor Bradley and Cy Mahlke.
“I don’t see a high-scoring game between the two teams,” Reynolds said. “Then again, you get breakdowns because guys get excited, and you try to be great instead of just good and you overplay something and you get big plays off of stuff like that.”
Reynolds would have preferred a couple more weeks before playing this game, in part because of those big play fears. Rivalry games are unpredictable because, well, they’re rivalry games.
This is Reynolds’ 11th year as Twin Falls’ head coach, and he’s coached at the school for more than three decades. He knows how high school players can react to big games, especially the Service Bowl.
Twin Falls is 7-1 against Canyon Ridge, but Reynolds is still figuring out the best approach to rivalry week.
“That’s the art,” he said. “Getting kids ready to play, but not so ready that they go out and burn themselves out in the first four minutes. Because emotions can do that. You go out and your hair’s on fire and there’s this huge letdown.”