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Wolves Sports

Classic to match Eastlake against Hawaii powerhouse

Posted Thursday, February 09, 2006 by Gene Dales

Classic to match Eastlake against Hawaii powerhouse:
Auburn also joins 5-game lineup at Qwest Field

by Jim Cnockaert
Sports Editor

Whatever hangover Eastlake High football players might have experienced after their first-round playoff loss to Cascade in November didn't last long.

That's because the Wolves already were preparing for their 2006 season opener, against Hawaii powerhouse Punaho in the prime-time game of the annual Emerald City Kickoff Classic at Qwest Field.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on Wednesday officially announced the five-game schedule for the Classic, set for Sept. 2, but the Wolves knew at the end of last season that they had a date with Punaho.

The Classic also features a 3 p.m. game between Auburn and Moses Lake.

"This is an opportunity we would want to take ... you just jump at something like this,'' Eastlake coach Gene Dales said. "This has served as great motivation. By the third week of November, we were 35 strong with juniors and sophomores in the weight room.''

This will be the third consecutive season that the Classic's prime-time game features an Eastside team against an out-of-state opponent.

Bellevue, then the reigning 3A state champion, snapped Concord (Calif.) De La Salle's 151-game winning streak with a 37-20 win in the 2004 Classic before more than 25,000 fans at Qwest Field -- the largest crowd in state history to watch a high school football game.

Last season, Issaquah dropped a 55-36 decision to another California power, Mission Viejo, in a game played in front of 2,500 fans. Attendance likely was hurt by the fact that the Classic was played on Labor Day. This year's Classic returns to its usual Saturday slot on Labor Day weekend.

Though WIAA officials said last summer that they hoped to make a prime-time game between a top Washington school and a high-profile out-of-state school an annual part of the Classic, last year's experience apparently has caused them to re-evaluate that plan.

"We'll look at it as a year-by-year deal,'' Darrin Hanson, the WIAA's director of marketing and media relations, said, noting that Punaho had already been invited to the 2006 Classic before the 2005 season began. "We spend a good deal of resources to bring in these teams.''

Hanson said the WIAA will pay for Punaho's flight and hotel, but that the school is responsible for all of its other expenses.

Dales, who was an assistant at Skyline when the Spartans played in the first Emerald City Classic, said he took on this game, in part, because he believes it is every young player's dream to play on an NFL field.

"It's a great way to begin the year,'' Dales said. "As long as you can get out of the game healthy, you're in good shape for the rest of the season.''

Issaquah had a rough time in last year's game against Mission Viejo, losing several key players to injury. That contributed to the Eagles' 1-3 start.

The Wolves had a surprising 2005 finish in their first season under Dales, despite losing their starting quarterback for the final four weeks of the season and having to weather a number of backfield injuries. Eastlake's 8-1 regular-season finish was its best since 2001.

Eastlake appears to be returning a strong team for 2006. Team MVP Tanor Johnson, an all-league cornerback and return specialist, is back, as are linebacker Jared Fagan and running back Dane Steele. Both also were first-team all-league performers in 2005.

"We feel like we have pretty high expectations coming into the season,'' Dales said.

The 2006 Classic will feature three of the state's best returning quarterbacks: Prosser's Kellen Moore, who helped the Mustangs knock off Bellevue last season in the state 3A playoffs; Auburn's Kellen Kiilsgaard; and, Southridge's Jason Munns.

Prosser, the 3A state runner-up, and Southridge, which was ranked as the state's top 4A team for much of last season, play in the 5:30 p.m. game. In the early games, Archbishop Murphy will face Orting and Columbia River will take on Curtis.

Journal reporter Ryan Lambert contributed to this report.

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