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Previewing the Top 15 high school football teams in Idaho: No. 11 Sandpoint Bulldogs

Last fall, the Bulldogs rallied from a 1-4 start to not only grab the top seed from the 4A Inland Empire, but they reached the state semifinals, losing to Skyline.
Jason Duchow Photography

Jason Duchow Photography

SBLive Idaho is previewing the Top 15 high school football teams in the state ahead of the 2021 seasonHere’s an inside look at the Sandpoint Bulldogs the 4A Inland Empire League – No. 11 in our countdown.

2020 IN REVIEW

5-5 (first place in 4A Inland Empire League); lost in 4A semifinals.

COACH’S RESUME

  • Ryan Knowles, fourth season
  • Overall record: 14-16
  • Assistant coaches: Dylan Benefield, Scott Albertson, Jeremy Thielbahr, George Yarno, Chad Loutzenhiser, Nate Loutzenhiser

RETURNING STARTERS

10 total on offense and defense.

SEASON OUTLOOK

Sandpoint High School football hadn’t advanced this far in the postseason in five years.

But when coach Ryan Knowles went to hand off the third-place trophy following a 20-0 loss to eventual state champion Skyline in last year’s Class 4A semifinals, no one wanted it. Knowles had to eventually dump it off to his athletic director.

“It was one of my proudest moments as a coach,” Knowles said. “We didn’t see it for three weeks because everyone in our locker room expected to win that game, and no one was satisfied with third place. And I really think that just set the tone for what we’re trying to do up here.”

The Bulldogs kind of have a state-championship-or-bust mentality coming into 2021. And with good reason.

They return 10 starters from a team, which had a bit of a surprise run after starting the year by losing four of its first five games.

Six of those players earned all-4A Inland Empire honors, including junior quarterback Parker Pettit. The 6-foot-1, 197-pound signal caller was the league's offensive player of the year in 2020. He’ll have plenty of weapons at his disposal, too - the biggest of whom are senior Gerrit Cox (RB) and junior Cody Newhart (WR).

On defense, look for senior linebacker Wes Benefield to lead the charge there. His older brother, Tag, was the defensive MVP in the league last year, and is a walk-on at the University of Idaho. Younger brother was the 4A Inland Empire's newcomer of the year.

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Benefield will be joined by fellow all-league senior players Will Hurst (DL) and Cody Steiger (DB), along with Luke McCorkle (DB) on that side of the football.

Senior Mike Chapman (OL/DL) and juniors Owen Wimmer (RB/LB), Aerie Vandenberg (WR) and Levi Balison (DL) are all ones to watch out for too.

“There’s a ton of excitement, I can’t sugarcoat it,” Knowles said. “The guys have crushed it in the weight room this offseason, they’ve bought in and they’re flying high ready to really make a name for themselves.”