FERNLEY, Nev. – Those who doubted, doubt no more.
The 2011 Wolverines are for real – proven once and for all on a bone-chilling Saturday evening in Fernley.
With an almost entirely new cast of players from the previous two undefeated seasons, the Truckee football team capped yet another unblemished year with a well-earned win against its always-game Southern 3A nemesis in the state championship.
In this round – the fourth consecutive installment of Truckee-Moapa Valley in the title game – the Wolverines rode a stout defensive effort to a convincing 21-6 victory that sent fans pouring onto the field in celebration.
At least one of those fans held a sign with a giant 36, representing Truckee's three-year, 36-game win streak, as Truckee players hoisted their school's latest 3A championship plaque proudly overhead.
“I'm just so ecstatic for the seniors. What a way to go out with a bang,” said junior receiver Erik Holmer, who caught a touchdown pass in the third quarter that was eerily similar to his game-winner against Fallon the week before. “A lot of people were doubting us because we had so many seniors graduate last year, but everybody just stepped up and we just kept fighting the entire season. And now we got the three-peat.”
The Wolverines added an 11th state championship to their trophy case while winning three consecutive titles for the first time in school history. Their last loss came in the 2008 state championship against Moapa Valley.
“I couldn't be happier,” said senior linebacker and fullback Cole Roberts, the only Wolverine to celebrate the entirety of the three-peat as a third-year varsity starter. “This is the greatest accomplishment of my life. I'm so proud. I'm so proud of my teammates, our coaches and everyone who's been a part of it.
“We've always been resilient, all year. We know we can step up when we need to, and that's what we did.”
The Wolverines stepped up indeed, and after a rough start as they fumbled the opening kickoff to the Pirates at their own 20-yard line.
But Truckee's defense stiffened, forcing a turnover on downs six plays later to establish a tone that would continue throughout the hard-hitting, defensive battle.
From there the Wolverines capitalized on a huge play on special teams that led to a touchdown late in the second quarter, while their offense heated up after sputtering through the first half to reel off two third-quarter touchdowns.
The defense, meanwhile, did its part and more, nearly holding the Pirates off the scoreboard completely as the unit came up with one clutch play after another, intercepting four passes and forcing two fumble recoveries. With the game well in hand late in the fourth quarter, Moapa Valley's Conner Mortensen scored on a 1-yard run to prevent the shutout.
“Our defense just had an outstanding game,” said junior linebacker Graham Christian, who, despite nursing an injured shoulder, was an animal defensively, finishing with a forced fumble, two sacks and four tackles behind the line of scrimmage. “The offense struggled a little bit in the beginning, but they stepped up and got points on the board.”
After blowing several chances to draw first blood, missing field goals of 29 and 41 yards and twice turning the ball over on downs after recovering fumbles deep in Pirates territory, Truckee's special teams provided a shot in the arm with 2:38 remaining before the half.
Following a 9-yard loss on a sack by Stein Retzlaff on a third-down play, Justin Carter broke through the Moapa Valley line and blocked a punt, which bounced into the hands of Zak Pettit as he alertly grabbed it and danced into the end zone for the game's first score.
“That was key for Truckee to take momentum right there,” said Moapa Valley head coach Brent Lewis. “I thought we'd go into the half even, and I liked our chances.”
The night belonged to the Wolverines, however.
They forced two three-and-out possessions to open the second half before driving from their own 44-yard line to the Moapa Valley 24, where junior running back Tyler Curtis took the handoff and burst through a hole en route to a long touchdown scamper. Austin Ferreira's PAT extended Truckee's lead to 14-0 with 3:55 left in the third quarter.
On the first play of the Pirates' next drive, Christian reacted with quick reflexes to pick off a short pass by backup quarterback Josh Repp, who, along with Lance Hilton, filled in for injured starting QB Dakota Watters.
Starting from the Moapa Valley 18, Truckee drove to the 6 before quarterback Pat Shaffer and Holmer hooked up in the corner of the end zone for another score, pushing the lead to 21-0 with 1:23 remaining before the fourth quarter.
Like his game-winning catch to advance past Fallon in the state semifinal, Holmer's grab was a thing of beauty for the Truckee faithful, and a crushing blow to the opposition as he snatched it out of the air with safety Shane Terril right in his face contending for the ball. Holmer crashed to the ground with a thud but held onto the ball.
“It was a win, and that's what we came here to get,” said Truckee head coach Bob Shaffer. “They (the Pirates) are a very good football team, and defensively they were very well prepared. But our special teams came through and blocked a punt, and I thought Pat made a great pass and Erik Holmer made a great catch in the corner of the end zone, again.
“I just can't say enough about just how well the kids played and prepared – and the coaching staff did a great job obviously, too.”
Truckee's defense continued to shut down the Pirates the remainder of the second half, save for the one scoring drive with the game already decided. With Moapa Valley desperate for a couple of quick scores, senior Trevor Auldridge cut off a deep pass by Repp to for an interception, while Roberts did the same on the final play of the game, raising his arms in victory as he returned the pick 30 yards down the Pirates sideline as time expired.
“They did something like that earlier in the game,” Roberts explained humbly, “and I saw their running back scamper out there, so I thought I should keep an eye on him.”
Coach Shaffer credited Roberts, as well as Christian and injured seniors Braden Waters and Max Collinson, for playing through their ailments, and playing well.
“Those seniors that were injured, we knew they were going to come out and play. It was just a matter of how well and how long they could be effective. And obviously we saw Cole with that last pick, he wasn't going to be denied tonight,” said Shaffer, adding that Roberts required attention at halftime for his pulled hamstring. “We rewrapped some things at the half and tried to get him duct taped together to let him finish his senior year.”
Despite their injuries, Roberts and crew were all over the field defensively, stifling the Pirates' running attack to just 49 yards on 37 carries while keeping their passing game in check with the four interceptions.
“I can't fault my kids' effort,” Lewis said. “They prepared well. I think the credit goes to Truckee. When you're a quarterback and you've got red guys flying all over the field, it's a tough situation to be in. So I've got to give Truckee the credit there.”
With the game in the bag late in the fourth quarter, a handful of Truckee seniors crept up behind Shaffer and staff and dumped two water coolers over the backs of several of the coaches. Shaffer was as prepared as he could be, wearing his hood in anticipation.
“I knew at some point it was coming. I just didn't know when or from where,” Shaffer said.
As the coach answered questions in the cold, his team celebrated the win on the field with friends and family and gathered for a team photo surrounded by flashing cameras.
“I'm so happy right now. It's unbelievable,” said Collinson, his taped knuckles dripping blood. “There's just so much emotion going on, I can't even handle it. We just got a three-peat.”
“I can't really explain it,” said Christian, also bloodied on the bridge of his nose. “My emotions are so high right now, it's out of control.”
“I've never felt this way before,” said Pat Shaffer, whose brother Vince was a key part of the 2009 championship team that started the run. “I mean, last year was great to win. But to come back again and just add another ring for everybody and another championship for our school is just wild. It's crazy.”
Mixed in the bliss was the realization that Truckee players had played their final game together. Many could not hold back tears.
“I'm pretty excited right now, but I'm a little sad that this is our last football game together,” said senior lineman Carlos Ramirez. “But it was good to end with a win – 36 and 0.”
“I'm speechless,” said Auldridge. “I mean, it's weird to have like four years of work, or even longer than that, since eighth grade, end all in one moment.”
It's not a moment any of them will likely forget.
Find a photo gallery from Saturday's state championship win at www.sierrasun.com/threepeat.