WALLA WALLA — DeSales football coach Mike Spiess had high praise for the third-ranked Lind-Ritzville-Sprague Broncos, No. 4 DeSales’ opponent in the quarterfinal round of the Class 2B playoffs Saturday.
Which isn’t surprising, considering the Broncos are undefeated at 10-0 and outscoring their opponents by an average of 23 points a game, including a 42-14 whipping of Southeast 2B co-champion Tekoa-Oakesdale-Rosalia in the opening round of the playoffs.
Spiess, who for the first time since the mid-1990s hasn’t coached the Irish offensive line this season, said L-R-S’s big hosses will likely be the best they’ve seen all year when they visit Spokane for a neutral-site game at Gonzaga Prep against the Broncos at 5:30 p.m.
“O-line is my favorite area and they are well-coached up front,” Spiess said. “They do things right.
“When we’re evaluating a team we ask, ‘Do they do the fundamentals and do they play the whole down?’” Spiess said. “And the answer on both of those is yes. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The L-R-S offensive line is composed of three seniors and two juniors, and averages just north of 200 pounds and 6-foot-2.
“They’re very physical in the front line,” Spiess said. “They win the battle up front all the time. That’s our first challenge; then they’ve got athletes behind them that can make plays, too.”
L-R-S coach Greg Whitmore was more modest about his line play, however.
“We don’t have a lot of depth there, but we are fortunate to have a little bit of size and athleticism,” Whitmore said of his lines. “Having said that, I look at the DeSales offensive and defensive lines, and this is one of the better fronts that we’re going to face. On defense, it will be one of the best front seven we’ve faced all year.”
So now it falls to the Irish (9-1) to try to game plan for the Broncos’ strengths, a task made tougher because they have few flaws, Spiess said.
“That’s part of being a coach at this level,” Spiess said. “You’ve got to find ways to cover up your weaknesses and exploit theirs. They don’t seem to have many, but we’re going to try.”
The Broncos are a run-first squad behind mobile quarterback Dylan Hartz and tailback Connor O’Neill, although they do have a passing game.
“They like to spread you out,” Spiess said, “but our feeling is they spread you out so they can run at you. But their QB is capable of throwing the ball.”
The Irish are coming off a convincing win over White Swan — another run-first team — in the opening round of the playoffs Friday, but it took a quarter for the Irish to adjust.
Poor tackling led to scoring runs of 78 and 38 yards and 214 yards of offense in the first quarter alone.
But the Irish defense clamped down and allowed just 152 yards and a meaningless score the remainder of the contest.
“I was really pleased with how we responded,” Spiess said. “Our kids could have folded or panicked, but they didn’t and we played really well the rest of the way.”
Against White Swan, the Irish showed the balanced attack that helped them earn a share of the SE2B title, rushing for 186 yards and passing for 222 more.
Jeremiah Cox passed for all of those yards and four touchdowns, three of which were caught by Joe Duehn and another by Ryan Baumgart.
Luke Fazzari bore the brunt of the load on the ground with 15 carries for 114 yards, while Andrew Elmenhurst contributed another 56 yards on six carries.
None of that would have been possible, however, without an offensive line Spiess said he has been pleasantly surprised with this season.
“I would say O-line was a concern for us going into the season,” Spiess said. “I’ve been pleased with the progress of our O-line all year long.”
The Irish offensive line is relatively young and small, however.
Tim Caudill (6-2, 195) and Cody Josifek (5-11, 190) are the lone seniors on the line. Freshman Bill Ferrera (5-7, 175) and juniors Matt Jubb (6-1, 210) and Braden Kimball (5-9, 160) round out the line. They will have to play above their weights — literally — to set up the rest of the Irish offense.
“We ask them to compete, we ask them to keep it simple,” Spiess said. But we do realize that sometimes when you get into the postseason, you’re going to run into teams that you might struggle to match up with, and that may be the case this weekend. At the same time, they may continue to please us.”
A win Saturday would put DeSales through to the semifinals, where the Irish would face either Southeast 2B League rival Waitsburg-Prescott or Reardan.