Raft River High School has played a bunch of important regular season games in the recent past. But a must-win game? You’d need to go back to 2012 to find one.
The Trojans began that season 1-3 and fell to 3-6 entering the final game of the regular season. They needed to beat Grace to earn the Snake River Conference’s fourth and final 1A Division I state playoff seed.
Raft River beat Grace 28-26, made the playoffs and lost in the state semifinals. The Trojans have made it at least that far every season since.
That streak is in serious danger of ending.
Raft River (4-1) travels to Valley (5-0) on Friday in a matchup of ranked teams — the Vikings are tied for first and the Trojans are third in the latest state media poll. Valley hopes to remain undefeated and increase its chances of winning the SRC. Raft River’s stakes are much higher.
“We know we’re gonna get everything they have because they’re behind the eight ball,” Valley head coach Ryon Jarvis said on this week’s Magic Valley Sports Podcast. “They need this one, I would say, somehow maybe worse than we do.”
Raft River traveled nearly four hours to Challis two weeks ago, and the Vikings won 29-28. Not only was that the Trojans’ first loss of the season, it was their first since November 15, 2015, when Prairie prevailed 44-30 in the 1A-DI state semis.
“When kids haven’t been beat, sometimes they don’t know how to respond very well, Raft River coach Brian Poole said on the podcast. “Hopefully we’ve learned some experiences from that game, and we’ve moved on, and hopefully we can get better.”
Challis ended Raft River’s 15-game losing streak and put the Trojans in an unfamiliar position. September 25, 2015 was the last time they lost a regular season game (66-16 to Valley).
Raft River, at 2-1, is currently fourth in the SRC. Valley and Oakley are both 3-0, and Challis is 4-1. Three SRC teams will qualify for the playoffs.
The Trojans beat Oakley to open the season, but that 46-42 victory did not count toward the conference standings.
“Of course, before we played the game, we were glad it didn’t count in conference,” Poole said. “Once we got the win, we’re like, ‘OK, maybe this should be the counter.’”
A loss on Friday would deepen Raft River’s hole. If Grace beats Glenns Ferry, the Trojans will fall to fifth in the conference.
“We’re gonna have to try to find a way to get a win against a very good Valley team and Oakley team, or we could be the odd team out,” Poole said.
There are too many “ifs” involved for Raft River to freak out. As dominant as Friday’s opponent has been this season, it enters the game hobbled.
Junior running back/linebacker Zackary Gomez has a sprained MCL, Jarvis said. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Victor Lopez, who battled injuries last year, has dealt with a separated shoulder and appendicitis this season. His appendix was removed, Jarvis said, and he’s out indefinitely.
“He knows he may not ever see the high school field again,” Jarvis said. “But we’re hoping, best case scenario, that he will be back before the playoffs, if we can get there.”
The Vikings can live with a loss on Friday thanks to their blistering start. They have outscored opponents 270-56, and their closest game of the season was a 50-20 victory over Challis to open the season.
“They’re a solid team all the way around,” Poole said. “Hopefully we can be the first team to give them a challenge, but everything they do kinda worries us.”
Valley and Raft River won the 2015 and 2016 1A-DI state titles, respectively, to complete undefeated seasons. The Trojans ended the Vikings’ 17-game winning streak last season with a 58-18 blowout, the first of three losses in Valley’s final four games.
That 1-3 stretch, which was mired by injuries, ultimately cost the Vikings a playoff spot. This fall, they hope to trade places with Raft River in at least one way, and ideally two. They want a state title, and an undefeated season is still in play.
But first, they have to beat motivated Trojans team on Friday night.
“Two years ago doesn’t matter, and last year doesn’t matter,” Jarvis said. “It’s time for the 2017 Vikings to bring their own tradition to the table.”