WALLA WALLA - It's October.
And that means that area prep football teams are heading into what promises to be - for some, anyway - an exciting second half of the season.
None more so than Touchet.
The Indians are one of the area's three unbeaten teams through September. And excitement will be at a fever pitch Friday afternoon when they entertain undefeated Colton in a battle that will leave the winner standing alone atop the Southeast 1B-8 League standings.
"Game of the week, I guess you'd say," Touchet coach Gary Dorman stated. "At least I hope so, if we can make it a game."
If Dorman has any lingering doubts about his team, it's probably justified in that the Indians haven't really been tested through their first four games. They've dominated a pair of non-league Oregon foes, Condon and Wallowa, and two SEB-8 rivals, Sunnyside Christian and St. John-Endicott, by an average 37-point margin of victory.
The Indians have rolled up 192 points in four games while allowing just 44. Two of their four victories were mercy-rule decisions that were stopped in the third quarter.
Colton, meanwhile, has averaged just shy of 46 points per game in its five victories, scoring 80 points in one non-league game and 75 in another. If the Wildcats, have a flaw, it could be a defense that has yielded 188 points so far.
However, the consensus of opinion is that Colton has played a tougher schedule than the Indians. And the Wildcats have been tested in three of their games - a 38-30 non-league win at Salmon River, Idaho, and in both of their league victories, 52-40 over Lacrosse-Washtucna last weekend in Colton and 54-52 the previous week at Pomeroy, a game in which the Pirates misfired on six of their eight two-point conversion attempts.
"Oh, yeah," Dorman said when asked if Colton was the team to beat in this year's race for the league title. "We are up against what I consider to be the best team in the league. At least that's what their record shows.
"They have really good team speed, and I am really impressed with the way they play from whistle to whistle. And they are very physical up front. We've watched films in which they love to pass the ball, but I heard they passed just six times against Lacrosse, so they are pretty balanced, too."
And while it's easy this week to not look ahead to next week, Dorman is well aware that the Indians and Wildcats aren't the only contenders for the league crown. Pomeroy and Lacrosse-Washtucna certainly made statements in their narrow losses to the Wildcats, and Garfield-Palouse is 1-0 in league play going into Friday's home game against St. John-Endicott and got everyone's attention last week in a 54-46 non-league loss to Liberty Christian.
Liberty Christian is a Class 2B-11 school playing an 8-man schedule because it expects to be reclassified in 2012. The Patriots, 4-1, were undefeated against SEB-8 schools last year and returned all but a handful of players off that team, including star quarterback Mike Olson.
"It's probably about like we expected it to be, two tiered," Dorman said of the SEB-8. "There are some good teams and some not so good teams. I'm not sure yet where we fit in because we haven't played any of the upper tiered teams.
"You've got to look at Colton and Pomeroy and Gar-Pal, and I better not leave out Lacrosse because we have not played them yet. They've got two losses, but it was to Colton and Gar-Pal."
Friday night the Tigercats play at Pomeroy in what looms as another pivotal game in the SEB-8.
A year ago at this point in the season, the Indians were in the midst of a three-game losing streak that ultimately cost them a ticket to the playoffs. That slide was largely attributed to a non-football related eye injury to Vicente Flores, who has been the picture of health so for this season.
In four games, the 180-pound junior has rushed for two touchdowns, caught passes for three TDs and has six return scores. Flores has returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns, and last weekend's 96-yard pass interception return for six points was his third in as many games.
"We'd love to see Vicente show up Friday and play his regular game," Dorman said. "He always seems to be around the ball and just seems to make things happen. But I'm sure he will have more of a bull's-eye on his back as the season goes on."
But that could work to his team's advantage, Dorman believes.
"Eric Hines had four or five catches at St. John because they were so focused on Vicente," Dorman said. "Eric came through and did a good job, and Jose Martinez did a good job of running the ball. It's good to have some depth for a change."
For the time being, that depth will help the Indians patch a couple of holes that were created last week when junior quarterback Octavio Preciado and senior lineman Matt Shute sustained injuries. Preciado sprained an ankle and Shute, who missed time earlier with a concussion, suffered a foot injury.
Although neither has been ruled out of Friday's game, Dorman is making plans otherwise.
Sophomore Elias Martinez, who split time at QB with Preciado through the season's first three games, is ready to replace Preciado. And junior Nate Ortiz, who missed the first three games with a knee injury, saw his first action at St. John and is ready to step in for Shute, Dorman said.
"Those kids will rise to the occasion," the coach said.
Meanwhile, Waitsburg-Prescott and Weston-McEwen, the area's other unbeaten teams, will be trying to extend their records Friday night.
W-P, fresh from it's important 33-14 victory at DeSales, is at home to another of its Southeast 2B-11 League rivals when Dayton makes the nine-mile drive to Waitsburg. The Bulldogs share the league lead with W-P and Asotin, all at 1-0, and they're 3-1 overall and seeking a second straight playoff berth.
But Waitsburg-Prescott, the defending SEB-11 champ, is 5-0 and the prohibitive favorite to repeat.
DeSales, now 0-1 and 2-2, faces a must-win game at Tekoa-Oakesdale-Rosalia and Asotin visits Tri-Cities Prep.
Weston-McEwen opened Blue Mountain Conference play last week with a 41-0 romp past Pilot Rock and takes a 4-0 mark to last-place Elgin (0-5 overall). The TigerScots' heavy lifting will begin the following week when they host Stanfield, which has already won its first two league games and entertains perennial powerhouse Heppner Friday.
Mac-Hi responded from its bye week by defeating Umatilla 24-6 last weekend in Umatilla for the Pioneers' first victory of the season. The Pioneers are back home at Shockman Field in Milton-Freewater Friday night to face a Medical Lake team that is 3-2 following last week's 15-14 victory over Pullman.
The Pioneers came out on the short end of a 43-13 score last season at Medical Lake.
After five consecutive losses, Wa-Hi hopes to use this week's bye as a chance to regroup in time for next weekend's Borleske Stadium invasion by Richland.
The Bombers, who are 0-2 in Big Nine Conference play but 3-2 overall, host undefeated Davis Friday. Davis shares the top spot in the Big Nine with Chiawana, which is at home to Moses Lake Friday.
No matter how you cut it, it appears to be a long season for the Blue Devils, who have been outscored 215-110 this season. Wa-Hi's best chance for a victory could be its Oct. 21 game at Moses Lake.
The Chiefs are also 0-5 after last weekend's 28-24 non-league loss to Hermiston, the same team that defeated the Blue Devils 28-21 in a season-opening game at Borleske Stadium.