SOAP LAKE — Soap Lake football had what head coach Tony Blankenship called a “come to Jesus” meeting.
The team was in a difficult position with a low enrollment for Class 2B, the postseason a goal even the most optimistic Eagle couldn’t visualize. So, after playing a couple of 8-man games last season, Soap Lake elected to play as an independent 1B team in 2019, following fellow league members Waterville, Bridgeport and Liberty Bell.
“We just felt like it was the best for our kids right now,” Blankenship said. “We are the lowest enrollment in our league — the only other one below us was Waterville and they already went independent as well... We’re only going to have about 12 eligible for the first game, so it’s a good thing we went eight.”
Soap Lake played a 2B league schedule with some 8-man non-league games in between. The Eagles showed promise at the lower level with wins against Yakama Tribal and Mary Walker. Now, they will have an opportunity to build some consistency and familiarity before an official change arrives in the future.
“It looks like with this next enrollment we’re going to be 1B for sure, so we’re just kind of prepping for it,” Blankenship said.
Soap Lake will get ample preparation this season, facing off against reigning 1B champion Odessa at home on Oct. 4 before traveling to 1B state runner-up Almira/Coulee-Hartline in the season finale on Nov. 8. Despite the subtraction of three players on offense, Blankenship said Soap Lake still plans to play a methodical, time of possession style of football to try and mitigate the high-scoring nature of the 8-man game.
“It’s going to be an interesting year, to say the least,” Blankenship said. “I don’t know really what to expect. We’re in one of the toughest leagues, I think. There is 28 teams in that 1B side here and there’s three different leagues. We’re in Odessa and ACH’s that are consistently winning titles — state titles — so that is going to be challenging.”
Playoff elimination before one game is played was a blow to team, however, a chance to rack up yards and points could ease the pain some. The more open field affords space for play-makers to race up and down the field. It is a rarity for 8-man games to score below the 40s. Almira/Coulee-Hartline even scored 100 points during last year’s state tournament. The Eagles will have to score, and score consistently, to stay in games.
“You might lose a game 70-50,” Blankenship said. “We talked about open-field tackling, we’ve really stressed that early on. This is going to be one of those situations where if you miss a tackle it’s a touchdown. Before you had a safety behind you.”
Blankenship said his defense will play a standard 3-3-2, with three down linemen, three linebackers, and two cornerbacks. He added that his team could play two linemen, three backers, two corners and a safety, depending on the opponent.
Offensively, all-league wide receiver Deezy Bentley will move to quarterback. The senior has the speed and elusiveness to break off big runs in the open field, a trademark of the 8-man game. Bentley has totaled 14 touchdowns during his time as an Eagle. He will likely add many more to that number in 2019.
“When it comes to all-league time, I think, honestly, he’ll be one of the top five athletes in that football league this year,” Blankenship said. “He’s throwing the ball really well for us and in this 8-man game I really feel like he might really shine.”
Soap Lake’s first four games are winnable, and a fast start is just what this program needs as it begins to solidify itself in the 1B ranks.
“We’ve always started slow here, but as the year goes on ... we get better week to week to week to week and at the end of the last few years we’ve really turned on late,” Blankenship said.