Eleven years ago, Moscow football coach Phil Helbling and Pullman coach David Cofer shared a sideline as assistants under then-Greyhounds boss Bill Peterson.
It was the only season the two coaches were on the same side of a border rivalry they’ve been familiar with their whole lives.
Helbling is a lifelong Moscow guy, who went up against Cofer’s Pullman team when the two were players in the mid 2000s.
Helbling and Cofer will meet for the third time as head coaches of their respective teams when the Greyhounds (2-0) meet the Bears (1-2) at 7 p.m. today at Bear Field in Moscow in the latest edition of the Little Battle of the Palouse.
“Anytime that you’re playing your rival from seven miles away, it’s a big deal,” said Helbling, who’s in his eighth year leading the Bears. “It means a lot to both communities, it means a lot to these kids. I know it means a lot to Pullman.”
Pullman has dominated the rivalry in recent history: Moscow hasn’t won the border game in Helbling’s tenure. The Bears’ previous win was a 42-9 trouncing in 2011. Pullman won 48-7 last year and owns a seven-game winning streak in the series.
But Cofer, who took charge of the ’Hounds in 2017, said his team isn’t taking the Bears lightly.
“This will be a tough test, so I’m really looking forward to seeing our kids in adverse situations,” Cofer said. “Just watching on film, they do a lot of things really well. I really think they’re tough to defend (and) they do a lot of good things with their quarterbacks.”
The biggest question mark heading into the contest is who will start at quarterback for Moscow.
Usual starter Chad Redinger injured his left hamstring in a Week 2 loss to Clarkston and will be a game-time decision against Pullman, Helbling said.
Sophomore Lane Hanson started for Moscow last week in a 46-36 loss to Timberlake. Hanson was responsible for 250 passing yards and four touchdowns with one interception in his debut.
“He’s a good little athlete,” Helbling said. “He was our JV quarterback last year, so obviously he hasn’t gotten as many reps as Chad. His arm strength isn’t as good, but he’s versatile.
“We just felt confident going to that game with him that he would at least be able to do what he needs to do on the offensive side, and he did that.”
Pullman also starts a sophomore quarterback.
Riley Pettitt has eased into his first season leading the offense with help from his stellar line and playmakers like Isaiah and Evan Strong.
“Riley has been getting better with each series that he’s had, so he needs to continue to go on that path,” Cofer said. “I’ve really been impressed with his decision making.”
Cofer said the biggest key for Pullman will be to continue taking care of the football and forcing turnovers. The Greyhounds had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in last week’s 49-0 blasting of Spokane’s North Central.
“We need to continue to take care of the football,” Cofer said. “We’ve done a really nice job of that up to this point just having one turnover that was really late in the game last week.”
For Moscow, the battle could come down to sustaining long drives on offense and tackling on defense — two areas where the Bears have struggled at times.
“We have to be able to run the ball,” Helbling said. “We can’t rely on … having big plays. We’ve shown we can do that, but we’ve gotta be able to sustain drives. And then defensively, we have to be aggressive.”
Both coaches said the game is important for the communities, and they expect a big crowd as usual.
“It’s another opportunity for us to get better,” Cofer said. “Anytime you can get a challenging team like Moscow, it only gets you better.”
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @StephanSports.