Tigers signal bright future in state semifinal loss

Exhausted Kendrick players surround senior Rylan Hogan as he holds the Idaho Class 1A-DII state third-place trophy.

Talon Alexander, Matt Fletcher and Rylan Hogan stood as a group near midfield, Alexander hoisting Kendrick’s green third-place trophy while he and his teammates posed for a photo.

It wasn’t the crowning achievement the three seniors — or their teammates — had hoped for, and the mood was understandably somber Monday night in the Kibbie Dome, where Kendrick’s season ended with a 40-14 loss to Carey in the Class 1A Division II semifinals. But the moment the three seniors shared was significant: They’re the only ones who played their final game in Tigers orange and black on this night.

The rest of Kendrick’s 16-man roster is set to return in 2021, a fact that offers hope for a promising future. Twelve underclassmen, including starting quarterback Ty Koepp, suited up for the Tigers’ pressure-packed game, signaling many more runs to the state semifinals and beyond on the horizon.

“They’re an impressive group, they’ve got a lot to look forward to,” Carey coach Lane Kirkland said. “They’ll be really good.”

Two freshmen and two sophomores were announced as starters Monday for Kendrick, and multiple other underclassmen rotated in throughout the game. The Tigers’ first offensive play was a 36-yard pass from Koepp to fellow freshman Cael Schwecke, and sophomore Jagger Hewett scored the first touchdown of the game a few seconds later. Another freshman, Wyatt Fitzmorris, tied Hewett for a team high with 73 yards receiving.

In all, underclassmen accounted for 273 of Kendrick’s 386 yards from scrimmage, and the team’s two touchdowns were scored by freshmen and sophomores.

“These freshman kids and sophomore kids are very talented,” Kendrick coach Zane Hobart said. “They’ve got a really high football IQ, which helps a lot. Probably one of the smartest groups of guys I’ve ever coached.”

Leading the way was Koepp, Kendrick’s 6-foot-2 offensive conductor who also plays defensive back. He captained Kendrick to its third straight appearance in the state semifinals and, once he got there, showed confidence most don’t have pre-driver’s license. Koepp completed his first three passes, including the 36-yarder to Schwecke and the 9-yard touchdown to Hewett, and led the Tigers into halftime tied 14-14 with the No. 1-ranked team in the state.

In his second career playoff game (Koepp and the Tigers beat Watersprings earlier in the playoffs), Koepp completed 17 of 43 passes — a figure that was inflated as Kendrick played much of the second half from behind — for 249 yards and added a team-best 89 yards on 17 rushing attempts, including a 1-yard touchdown. He admittedly made some mistakes — three interceptions and a lost fumble among them — but didn’t play his team out of the game on the grandest stage of his young high school career.

“His season was phenomenal for his age,” Hobart said. “We knew he was going to be good, but he definitely exceeded our expectations. I just told him right there at the end, sky is the limit, whatever he wants to put into football he can get out of it. He can be one of the better quarterbacks, by the time he’s a junior or senior, in the state of Idaho. I really mean that.”

So while the heartbreak of Monday’s loss stings in the short term, the long-term outlook is bright for Hobart, Koepp and Co. Some work in the weight room and added depth will be keys, Hobart said, but the ingredients are there for more November nights in the Dome.

Maybe in a few years, the group of seniors posing at midfield will have a different trophy in hand.

“We’ve got some youngsters out here that are really talented,” Hobart said. “Had to tell them to take a mental note of that scoreboard. We plan on being back here another three years in a row.”

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