AHS Football goal posts

Clouds roll in as the sun sets at CMH Field.

They don’t call it the “Conference of Champions” for nothing.

Schools from the Cowapa League spent the 2018-19 school year winning state championships, literally. And if they weren’t winning state titles, they were providing the opposition for the ones that were.

Of course the Banks Braves scored most of the headlines, winning state championships in football, boys basketball and baseball — and most of those sports with the same athletes, for one of the league’s smallest schools.

Banks was the first Oregon high school since North Valley in 1984-85 to win championships in football, basketball and baseball in the same school year.

The winning didn’t stop there for the amazing Cowapa.

Valley Catholic (volleyball) and Tillamook (wrestling) both captured state titles, while the Valiants also played for a state championship in girls soccer and finished second in girls golf.

Two of the most dramatic races took place in boys basketball and football, where Banks and Seaside battled tooth and nail all the way to the state championship game, in both sports. The Braves made off with the first place trophies in both.

Banks also won the state title in baseball, while Astoria’s chase for the championship came up short in the semifinals.

Which brings us all to the 2019-20 school year.

It’s not a question of IF a Cowapa League team will win a state title — it’s which ones in which sports.

In football, all eyes will be on the Braves and Gulls in Week 1 of the Cowapa’s league season.

Both teams will be seeking a return to the championship game … and both squads will have a solid shot at getting there. But for good measure, don’t take your eyes off Astoria.

The Fishermen — state playoff competitors in 2015 and 2016 — may be more prepared than Banks and Seaside, which face rebuilding jobs of their own.

Entering his 20th year as the Astoria coach, Howard Rub said the Cowapa League race is “pretty wide open” in 2019. “Tillamook is ready to make a big jump. Banks is fortunate to have their starting offensive line back and should be able to reload with some of their skill position guys. And Seaside’s going be very good again.

“It’s arguably the toughest league for football in the state of Oregon, so we know we have our work cut out for us. We’re working hard to get ourselves back in the mix.”

NWL Football

While six teams battle for the top spot in the Cowapa, the Class 2A Northwest League is looking at a two-team race for a league title.

And it’s a good, old-fashioned Clatsop Clash showdown between the Knappa Loggers and Warrenton Warriors.

The Loggers will be looking to regain control of a league they’ve dominated for years, while the Warriors are hoping to look like exactly what they are: a 3A team playing in a 2A league.

“I’m not too sure what the league will look like,” said Knappa coach Aaron Barendse, “other than Warrenton returns just about everyone and got a lot better as the (2018) season progressed. I’d say they are going to be in the mix for a league title and a deep playoff run.”

Barendse knows football, and he seems to know just what the Warriors have:

“A lot of kids to choose from and a lot of kids on the roster to keep kids fresh,” Barendse says of Warrenton. “Add that with some good pieces to the puzzle and they will be a handful.”

Elsewhere, the coach heading into his eighth year in the NWL said “Gaston is always physical and you never know what they’ll put together.

“Vernonia has an incredible back (Josh Rice) that’s a nightmare to slow down. They’ll be able to move the ball with him.”

Defending league champion Neah-Kah-Nie “lost a lot, but also has some really good younger guys, so they’ll be a big question. Nestucca is another physical team that can cause problems if you’re not ready to play.”

And Portland Christian “could have a whole different roster tomorrow, so who knows with them. Expect the unexpected.”

Gary Henley is a sports reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 503-861-8493 or ghenley@dailyastorian.com.

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