Work ethic, accountability, experience, buy-in — these are some of the words Moscow High football coach Phil Helbing used to describe his Bears squad that won its second straight district title and earned a berth to the Class 4A state playoffs.
“Now it’s taking all that stuff and preparing for a one-week season,” Helbling said.
The Bears (5-3) play host to Middleton (6-3) of the Southern Idaho Conference at 6 p.m. today at Bear Field.
This year, Moscow isn’t content with just making it to state. Many of the team’s players were a part of last year’s group that got blasted by Vallivue 55-14 in the first round.
“(We’re) just trying to not be bigger than the moment,” Moscow lineman Kaden Kiblen said. “I definitely felt last year like we were a lot more timid about playing (Vallivue). We were like ‘Oh, it’s a big Boise team.’
“We gotta be confident that we can win ’cause we have a chance to win.”
Moscow sealed a district title and state berth Friday with a 27-14 win against Lakeland, but the Bears took a big blow in the process. Junior quarterback Chad Redinger broke his collarbone in the second half, ending his season.
Redinger’s arm and legs have accounted for much of the Bears offense this fall.
“Obviously, you feel for the kid,” Helbling said. “He’s a tough cat. I feel for him. But with that, guys gotta step up.”
Junior Lane Hanson will take Redinger’s place under center against Middleton. The quarterback/wideout started one game this season — a 46-36 loss to undefeated Timberlake in September — and he caught and rushed for a pair of touchdowns against Lakeland in the district title game.
“He’s a good athlete. It’s just kinda getting him dialed in early on,” Helbling said.
Hanson had four touchdowns and one interception in his only start this season — a game Redinger missed with a leg injury.
“Had one kind of errant pick, but other than that he threw lights-out,” Helbling said. “And that’s what we’re going to need him to do on Friday.”
The Bears will also have some shuffling at wide receiver. Starter Ben Postell will be a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury, Helbling said. But Moscow returns senior Brayden Decker, who has missed most of the second half of the season with a thumb injury.
If Postell can’t go, Ethan Hopkins will start at the other outside wideout position.
“We are going to have to be at our all-time best and without a few guys,” Helbling said. “That’s a tall order, but hey, it’s what you’re dealt. Life sometimes deals you a bad hand.”
With Redinger out, Moscow’s other leaders will have to step up. Guys like Kiblen, Hanson, Jonah Elliss, Bennett Marsh, Logan Shears and Brandon Suquet have been instrumental in Moscow’s first winning season since 2010.
Kiblen said the Bears came out with a different mindset this season, and they don’t plan on turning back anytime soon.
“I definitely think we’re in the midst of a big program change,” Kiblen said. “We’re here to stay. I don’t think we’re going to bounce back to the old Moscows.”
One of the biggest positives for Moscow this season was that every game was close, even the losses. Timberlake, a 3A school, is undefeated at 8-0. And Moscow’s other losses were to Clarkston, another district champion team, and 5A Lewiston.
A win over border rival Pullman highlights Moscow’s slate.
But Middleton could be the toughest opponent yet.
Helbling said the Vikings boast a big offensive line, and size and speed on the outside.
“There’s nothing that they do that in our minds we haven’t seen thus far this season,” Helbling said. “It’s gonna have to be finding a way to get out to the QB a little bit and make him feel uncomfortable back there.”
If they can do that, the Bears will have a shot at keeping their season alive.
“It’s win or go home now,” Helbling said. “If you want to continue to play football, you have to take care of business in the playoffs.
“That’s what we’re preparing to do.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @StephanSports.