Friday night lights returns Sept. 5 as the Bonney Lake Panthers and Sumner Spartans take the field for the first game of the 2014-2015 season.
The Panthers travel to play Bellarmine Prep in a non-league match up against the Lions.
“This will be a good test out of the gate for us,” coach Jason Silbaugh said.
Silbaugh returns for his third year as head coach of the Panthers.
Last year, Bonney Lake started the season 0-5 and then finished the season winning their last five in a row. The Panthers lost to Peninsula in the round of 16 to end their season.
This year the league will look different. The Panthers will remain in the South Puget Sound League 3A and the Spartans will join them from the 2A. They will also face Auburn, Auburn Mountainview, Auburn Riverside, Enumclaw, Lakes and Peninsula in conference play.
“This may be the toughest 3A in the state,” Silbaugh said.
Silbaugh credits the seniors last year for setting a good example of leadership for the other players to follow and carry on this coming year.
The Panthers return four offensive starters and five defensive starters.
Returning players entering their senior year are quarterback Isaiah Weed, running back Ethan McElderry, defensive end Riley Miller, receiver and defensive back Dillion Jordon, nose tackle and guard Jordan Zimmerman and linebacker Baily Sulfridge.
Silbaugh said Miller is a 4.0 student, student body president for Bonney Lake and has also spent some time on the east coast at Ivy League schools.
“I would like to see him go play for Yale,” Silbaugh said.
Silbaugh added Jordon also has the “potential to play at the next level.”
Zimmerman missed his junior year because of surgery but is back for the Panthers and Silbaugh said he will be a two-way starter.
Along with the returning seniors Silbaugh mentioned a few players to keep your eye on throughout the season. Silbaugh mentioned sophomore Jason Day who will play safety and running back for the Panthers, Ethen Koepke who will start as tailback and middle linebacker, sophomore Caleb Davis who will likely start both ways as offensive lineman and defensive end and junior Jordan Cozzi who will be a two-way starter playing corner and receiver.
Koepke had a hearing August 28 to see if he will be eligible to play the first game. At the time of press, it was still unknown what the verdict was.
“Outside of our seniors, we have a young team,” Silbaugh said.
Fall camp for Bonney Lake ended August 29 with a black versus white scrimmage.
“It will be an experiment,” Silbaugh said. To see how the players react to game-like play.
When game week begins, Silbaugh said everything starts to click more. The Panthers will spend time focusing on their opponent for each week.
The Panthers and Spartans always play each other every year in the Sunset Bowl but for the last four years, Sumner has been in a different league than Bonney Lake.
This year, playing each other in the second to last game of the regular season, the Sunset Bowl could mean more than the in district rivalry game it has been for the past few years. The Sunset Bowl could help secure a spot in the post season for one or both of the teams.
Regarding the rivalry game, Silbaugh said “we want to treat every game the same, treat it like any other game.”
He added he wants the team to enjoy the moment when playing Sumner in week eight.
“I’m excited to see what happens,” he said. “Many may not give us much credit but we want to focus on us and do what we do. Good things will happen.”
On the other side of town, Keith Ross returns for his 13th season as Sumner’s head coach.
Last season the Spartans went 11-0 until losing to Lynden in the quarter finals.
Sumner graduated three key players.
“They may have been the three best players I have ever had,” Ross said.
The three he is referring to are running back DeJon Lynch, offensive lineman and linebacker Austin Striplin and running back Brandon Tuilaepa.
Ross said between Lynch and Tuilaepa, they rushed for more than 3000 yards last year.
“It’s hard to replace that,” Ross said. “But we have guys who can fill in.”
Captains for the upcoming season are returning starters senior quarterback Chase Torgison and senior middle linebacker Jesse Lindahl.
Last season, Lindahl had 100 tackles, Ross said. And Torgison, a four year starter for Sumner, returns for his final year at the helm for the Spartans.
Senior wide receiver Triston Wedington returns for his final season. Last year, Ross said he scored 12 touchdowns.
Other players to keep an eye out for Ross said are senior offensive and defensive lineman Nick Farman, junior running back Josh Riley, sophomore running back Conor Wedington and sophomore tight end and defensive end Michael Carey.
Ross credits the receivers and linebackers as being the strength of the team.
The journey for the Spartans to the new league is nothing new for Ross.
Sumner has played in the 4A, 3A, the 2A for the past four seasons and now they return to the 3A.
“It will be a tough league, very physical,” Ross said.
The Spartans start their season off against Franklin Pierce in a non-league match up against the Cardinals.
Playing in the same league as Franklin Pierce last year will help the Spartans as they enter into the 2014-2015 season, Ross said.
When it comes to playing other teams that are new to the league, it is different.
“We don’t have film of us versus them,” Ross said. “We haven’t seen or played these teams in years. They have unfamiliar systems, teams and coaches. We have to be on point.”
Ross added, as coaches and players it will be nice to “dominate in the 3A and show everyone we can play against anybody.”
Similar to Silbaugh, Ross said the in district rivalry between Bonney Lake and Sumner “always matters.” He added, it is a “good healthy rivalry for the district.”
A lot of the players on both teams have grown up with each other, playing both on the same team and on the opposing team as each other.
“It’s a fun game,” Ross said.
Week three of the season starts league play for both the Panthers and Spartans. Bonney Lake will first face Auburn Mountainview and Sumner will play Enumclaw.