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The Front Row with MARK NELKE November 18, 2010

| November 18, 2010 8:00 PM

At the beginning of the season, the Coeur d'Alene Vikings handed the keys to their complex, spread, no-huddle offense to a junior quarterback and wondered what was next.

Chad Chalich has responded by passing for 2,654 yards, with 30 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, and the Vikings are playing for their first state high school football title in 25 years Friday night.

Top-ranked Coeur d'Alene (10-1) plays fourth-ranked Centennial (9-2) in the state title game Friday at 7 p.m. at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.

"We had great confidence in Chad's ability, but we were all waiting to see how he was going to handle the pressure of being the quarterback," Coeur d'Alene coach Shawn Amos said. "It's apparent he's handled it very well."

One reason he's handled it well is, he hasn't had to carry the load. He has four receivers who have caught 30 or more passes - Drew Turbin (60 receptions, 709 yards, 4 touchdowns), Jake Matheson (48 catches, 864 yards, 7 TDs), Deon Watson (32 catches, 438 yards, 3 TDs) and Matt Lambert (31 catches, 473 yards, 9 TDs).

And when teams set up their defense to try to take away the pass, like Capital did last Saturday in the state 5A semifinal at Bronco Stadium in Boise, the Vikings can move the ball on the ground. Zach Keiser, who missed two games early in the season with a foot injury, has rushed for 1,144 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Lake City tried to take away the run in its two meetings with Coeur d'Alene, and Chalich threw for 589 yards in the two games. Capital backed off and tried to take away the pass, and Keiser ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns in 11 carries - in just two quarters.

"If we play efficiently, we don't really have one phase of the game we have to rely on," Amos said.

Keiser, who got his bell rung during last Saturday's game and watched the rest of the game from the sidelines, has been cleared to play Friday, Amos said.

And the Viking defense, dubbed the “Mighty Mites” by Amos earlier in the season, has stepped up when needed.

Friday will be the first time the Vikings have played for a state title in the Kibbie Dome since 1987, when Coeur d’Alene fell to Highland of Pocatello 27-24.

Coeur d’Alene has won two state titles in football — in 1982, beating Twin Falls 55-13 in Twin Falls, and ’85, beating Highland 21-14 at Holt Arena in Pocatello. The last time the Vikings played in a state title game was in 2004, when the Vikings lost 41-35 to Twin Falls at Holt Arena.

That team lived more on the ground, with two-thirds of its offense coming via the run. Gabe Le rushed for 1,703 yards and 26 touchdowns, and Kevin Ah-Hi ran for 1,444 yards and 16 TDs. Quarterback Max Lyons passed for 1,614 yards and 16 TDs.

It’s been four years since a local 5A team played for a state title, and that game also took place at the Kibbie Dome, with Lake City throttling Highland 35-6.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via e-mail at mnelke@cdapress.com.

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