Redinger, Elliss have seen the highs, lows for Moscow

From left, seniors Jonah Elliss and Chad Redinger will lead the Moscow football team into their Class 4A first-round state playoff game today at Jerome.

Twenty-two.

That’s the number of games the Moscow High School football team has played since senior leaders Chad Redinger and Jonah Elliss took their first varsity starts as sophomores in 2018.

Through the past three seasons, the quarterback and tight end/linebacker have seen the highs of two district titles, a “program-changing” win against rival Pullman in 2019 and the Bears’ first win versus Class 5A Lewiston in six years this season.

They’ve also encountered plenty of lows, including an 0-4 start to their careers as starters, Redinger’s broken collarbone in 2019 and a delayed season this year because of the coronavirus.

Now, the Bears (3-1) face the Jerome Tigers (6-2) in the first round of the Idaho Class 4A state tournament at 6 p.m. Pacific today — a game they didn’t know they’d have after playing only four games in a shortened season and falling to Sandpoint in their Class 4A Inland Empire League finale.

Redinger calls his team’s third consecutive trip to State “a blessing.” The challenges he and his teammates encountered this season, and past years, will help them in the future, he said.

“I think it’s going to prepare us a lot for life,” Redinger said. “Things aren’t going to go your way, things are going to change on a dime. ... Coach (Phil) Helbling says it a lot: ‘Just how are you going to handle the adversity?’ I feel like this year has really shown us a lot about how life is going to be. It’s not always going to be perfect.”

Those obstacles have prepared the Bears for what they’ll face in southern Idaho.

“We’re ready. We don’t want to lose again,” the 5-foot-10 quarterback said. “We’ve lost in the first round the last two years and I don’t think anybody wants that to happen again.

“We’re kind of tired of it, so we’re ready to finally advance in the playoffs.”

The Redinger-to-Elliss connection that propelled Moscow to the postseason is one fans have become accustomed to in recent history. When Moscow’s dual-threat quarterback isn’t scrambling for big gains, he’s often heaving the ball to Elliss deep downfield.

Redinger said his favorite pass to Elliss, a University of Utah commit, was the clinching touchdown in Moscow’s 28-20 win Oct. 2 against the Bengals. Redinger found Elliss on a crossing route in traffic for a 55-yard score.

“Just watching the play come together on film, Jonah was double-covered or triple-covered, and I just still knew I could put the ball where only he could catch it and he’s going to make a play with it,” Redinger said. “I feel like that touchdown really solidified the game.”

For Elliss, his top play came against Lakeland one week later. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder took the ball on a double reverse and conjured up a 49-yard score with Redinger lead blocking the whole way.

“Just seeing all that open turf with Chad right in front of me, I was like, ‘I got this, Chad’s got my back on this one,’” Elliss recalled.

The duo, and their teammates, have come a long way from their days as underclassmen when the team expected to lose games every weekend, not win them.

Redinger said wins against teams like Pullman and Lewiston helped change the culture of the program.

“I think it was a program-changer, it was a mentality-changer,” Redinger said. “People didn’t have confidence in our football team. It was like, ‘Oh, who is our football team going to lose to this Friday.’ But now once (they won) those two big, key games, it’s kind of changed the mentality, like ‘We’re going to win.’”

On a trip to Sandpoint in 2019, the Bears took only 22 players on the bus. This year, 65 players came out for football.

During the Sandpoint game this year — Moscow’s first loss to the Bulldogs in three seasons — the Bears came out flat. Redinger played on a hurt knee suffered in the previous game, and the Bears struggled to contain the Bulldogs in a 31-21 defeat.

But Moscow earned an at-large berth to the state tournament based on MaxPreps RPI rankings, and the Bears are eager for another shot.

“Just the effect it had on me, I’m ready to go, I’m ready to redeem myself from that game and I know my teammates are ready to do the same,” Elliss said.

Helbling said he doesn’t know the last time Moscow won a state football game on the road, but he guesses it’s been at least 20 years. The Bears lost in the first round of the postseason at home each of the past two seasons.

Helbling said Jerome is a big, passing-oriented team, so the difference likely will come down to the trenches and getting pressure on the quarterback, which is a strength for Elliss. The Tigers haven’t lost since the second week of the season.

“It’s going to take an all out team effort,” Helbling said. “We’re going to play good football on both sides of the ball.”

Wiebe can be reached at swiebe@dnews.com, by phone at (208) 883-4624 and on Twitter @StephanSports.

Wiebe can be reached at swiebe@dnews.com, by phone at (208) 883-4624 and on Twitter @StephanSports.

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