Written By: Will Hoenike
There could be a little bit of a change in the 5A Inland Empire League ranks this fall and it comes in Lewiston. A program that has tossed the ball all over the panhandle for the past few years with quarterbacks like Tyson Wallace, Colton Richardson, and Justin Podrabsky.
But second-year head coach Matt Pancheri hinted that could change a little bit in 2019.
“If we can run the ball, we will be pretty good on offense,” Pancheri said. “We generally have thrown a lot but will be replacing our quarterback and will likely lean on our run game more this year.”
Don’t think ground-and-pound. Think more about … balance.
“Last year, we had more experience coming back, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Pancheri explained. “We will be young and it hopefully won’t take too long to grow up.”
The Bengals have had good backs in the recent past, but not in the traditional, 25-carry-every-Friday mindset. Will they go that direction this year? Time will tell. Junior Michael Bramlett will have the first crack at earning the bulk of the carries behind junior linemen Alec Eckert and Trevor Grimm. If that group succeeds, it will take a lot of pressure off the team’s passing game.
The team still has a good stable of receivers returning this fall, led by senior Isaiah Walker and senior Harrison Smith. Garrett Creviston can haul in some passes and juniors Devin Zagelow and Jared Grainger are ready to run as well. As for who will be calling the signals and delivering those throws, sophomore Cruz Hepburn will be one of the players competing for the role as the season draws near.
Pancheri said the team has good returning experience on the defensive side of the ball. Damon Shaw and Carlos Jaques will be at the heart of the defense from the linebacker position and Creviston, a talented senior, returns at safety. The group, as a whole, did some good things in 2018. During one five week stretch, from late August through the end of September, the Bengals went 5-0 and allowed a total – a TOTAL – of 37 points.
“Our areas of emphasis haven’t changed much from last year,” Pancheri said. “We need to be able to run the ball and stop the run.”
The Bengals open the season with a stern test – going on the road on August 30 to face Idaho Falls. The Tigers are coming off a seven-win season that included a road win in Lewiston. It’s a 500-mile trip that takes Pancheri back to an area he knows well. The second-year head man in Lewiston came from District VI, where he was a defensive coordinator at both Bonneville and Madison high schools before taking the head coaching job in the Lewis-Clark Valley.
Last fall, the Inland Empire League had two representatives in the 5A state playoffs. Coeur d’Alene has seemingly had a stranglehold on one playoff spot out of the panhandle over the past decade-plus. Can anyone unseat them? Post Falls returns a solid team that reached the postseason last fall and Lake City will make sure its voice is heard before the season ends as well. With three conference games, teams don’t get an even number of home and road games. Lewiston is on the short end of the IEL schedule stick this year, having to travel up Interstate 95 to play at Coeur d’Alene and Lake City in October, while hosting Post Falls on October 18.
Establishing a new quarterback and a steady ground game will give Lewiston a strong chance of qualifying for the 5A playoffs, especially if the defense continues to play well in 2019.