TRUCKEE, Calif. - Many a high school football aficionado has wondered aloud how the Truckee Wolverines do what they do - which is, win. Almost exclusively.
How does the smallest high school in the Nevada Division I-A win three consecutive state championships, without a single blemish in the process, and five of the last eight state titles?
The perennial dominance - Truckee had won 41 consecutive games before this past Saturday, dating back more than three years - is hard to explain, at least from the outside. Take a closer look, however, and the Wolverines' success is not so difficult to fathom.
It all begins with good stock, as the Truckee area is a hotbed for world-class athletes. Take a look at the locals. They're fit, active, athletic, working-class and mountain hardy. And they pass along those traits to their offspring - future Truckee football-playing offspring, in many cases.
Next are the youth football programs, spearheaded by dedicated parent-coaches and filled with eager young participants. Take a look around Surprise Stadium during a home football game. The place crawls with mini Wolverines donning red jerseys, each representing his respective Sierra Youth Football League team, and each with dreams of varsity football glory.
Then there's the varsity program itself, which few high schools of 600 students can match in quality and class. And that's largely due to the Wolverines' coaching staff.
Head coach Bob Shaffer and his all-star crew - Josh Ivens, Jim Doughty, Rick Wilson, Dow Higginbotham, Nik Fertita - are top-notch, college-worthy, and they make sure their players are prepared for success every time they step on the field, both mentally and physically.
The recent result of the Truckee formula was a beastly win streak that, until finally snapped this past weekend, ranked fourth in the nation in 11-man football, and tied the all-time record in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (11-man).
What a run it was.
From the start of the 2009 season until Saturday's loss, the Wolverines had outscored their opponents by a collective margin of 1,720-293 en route to the 41 consecutive victories.
Taking a look back, the 2009 campaign was perhaps most impressive in terms of dominance.
Loaded with an exceptionally talented junior class and a solid core of senior athletes, the Wolverines swept through the Northern 3A (now called the Division I-A) with ease, scoring 552 points in 12 games and recording five shutouts. They held their opposition to a paltry 60 points.
The biggest, most surprising shutout of all came in the final game, when Truckee blanked Southern Nevada rival Moapa Valley 27-0 in the state championship, wiping away the sour taste of a 35-16 loss the previous year against a high-powered Moapa Valley team. (Moapa Valley in many ways mirrors Truckee, with quality coaching and a football-rich community.)
The 2010 season was nearly on par with 2009. The Wolverines shut out the first six teams they faced and finished with a total of 528 points scored to only 65 allowed. They defeated Moapa Valley for the second straight year in the state championship, this time by a 27-7 score.
With the juggernaut junior class from 2009 graduated and gone, programs across the state were licking their chops for the opportunity to squash Truckee's 24-game winning streak entering the 2011 season.
But they all failed.
Despite fielding a largely new squad of players, the Wolverines again swept through the Northern 3A, but with fewer weapons and in a less convincing manner overall. But that just made the run that much more exciting. Instead of routing all comers, Truckee barely eked past Fallon on two occasions, including a narrow 28-24 win in the state semifinal that came down to the final minute.
That set up the fourth consecutive showdown against Moapa Valley in the state championship. On northern turf, the Pirates played the Wolverines tough early, but Truckee's swarming defense took its toll while its offense provided enough big plays to help lift Truckee to a 21-6 win, and third straight title to go along with the 36-game win streak.
Safe to say, the 2012 Wolverines entered this season with more pressure than the average high school sports team. And they handled it like 17- and 18-year-old pros, marching out to a 5-0 record to open the year and extending the streak to 41 games with a 34-3 win at Spring Creek on Sept. 28.
But all good things must come to an end, and this past Saturday simply was not the Wolverines' day. It was Fernley's, as the Vaqueros came into town and beat the three-time defending champs, fair and square, to the stunned heartbreak of thousands of Truckee supporters.
That leaves the Wolverines with one goal in mind - win again.