INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - There was no love lost on the field at Highlander Stadium on Friday.
A contentious contest between Division III rivals Whittell and Incline almost turned ugly after the final horn sounded, as both head coaches exchanged heated words following Incline's 49-7 rout.
"They just didn't play with much class," Whittell coach David Housel said of the Highlanders, explaining why he confronted Incline coach Scott Conn at the end of the postgame handshake line. "Their coaches were yelling at our players, they were going for two (points) with a 42-point lead, and they were playing their first string until the end.
"They just showed no class. That's not the type of program that we're going to have. It was ridiculous to see, and I'm going to protect my players."
Conn downplayed the exchange.
"That was just coaches being competitive," he said, adding, "I can honestly say I didn't say a word to any of their players. With all the excitement, I doubt they could have heard us anyway."
The Highlanders were not apologetic about the lopsided score. They were energized from start to finish, in large part due to a riling comment by a Whittell player that ran in a preview article Friday.
"It'll be a close game, but I'm going to injure someone," the comment read.
Incline took exception.
"It definitely fired us up," Incline quarterback Jack Clouthier said of the quote. "But we're always a class act, and we always play with composure. Things might have got out of hand a little bit, just with the talking and stuff like that. But it was a rival game."
The game began as a shootout, with Whittell answering a long, opening touchdown drive by the Highlanders with an 83-yard touchdown play from quarterback Austin Buyak to Ty Sprock to take an early 7-6 lead.
But the Highlanders responded with their own big pass play on the ensuing possession - a 47-yard TD strike from Clouthier to Michael Wegener - before scoring five unanswered touchdowns.
Incline found the end zone twice in the second quarter while also recording a safety to take a 29-7 lead into the half.
Senior Sean Herrera carried the offensive load for the Highlanders, as the 5-7, 163-pound fullback tallied 138 yards rushing in the first half and 289 yards total on 16 carries, despite playing with the flu. He scored four TDs, including an 80-yard sprint to round out the scoring in the fourth quarter.
"Sean Herrera was outstanding," Conn said. "He has speed and spectacular sight to see holes open as the play is happening. He's just an awesome player."
Herrera wasn't the only one making plays for Incline. The Warriors had a tough time stopping the Highlanders all night. Incline amassed 473 total yards of offense - 396 on the ground and 77 through the air - and rushed for 217 yards in the first half alone.
"Our defense couldn't stop them," Housel said. "We would move the ball OK, but they had some time-consuming drives and we just couldn't get in any kind of rhythm. And we didn't tackle; that was our biggest problem."
Incline opened the game with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ate nearly 5 minutes of clock, highlighted by a fake punt that resulted in a 27-yard gain and a big first down. Senior running back Brendon Steinmeyer, also playing with the flu, spun off a tackle and stretched for the goal line from 4 yards out to score the first touchdown. He missed the PAT, leaving the score 6-0.
Just two plays later, the Warriors proved they too had some offensive firepower.
From their own 17-yard line, Buyak dropped back and heaved a deep bomb in the direction of Sprock, who was defended tightly by Wegener. Both players leaped for the ball, and Sprock came down with it, in stride, before eluding a shoestring tackle running into the end zone for the 83-yard score. The extra point by Garrett Bronken gave Whittell a 7-6 lead.
It was short-lived, however. Four plays later, the Highlanders dialed up their own long touchdown pass as Wegener slipped behind the Whittell secondary and Clouthier hit him with a deep ball. The 47-yard TD and two-point conversion, another pass to Wegener, put Incline in front for good, 14-7.
Whittell's offense sputtered the rest of the way. After the one score, Warrior drives resulted in a punt, a missed field goal, a safety, an interception, a turnover on downs, a punt returned for a touchdown, and another missed field goal - a 49-yard attempt by Bronken that fell short.
Incline's third touchdown of the half came early in the second quarter, as Clouthier connected with Herrera on a 9-yard touchdown pass. Herrera scored again from 2 yards out on Incline's ensuing possession, extending the lead to 27-7 after Steinmeyer's extra point.
The Warriors spotted the hosts two more points before the break when running back Hughston Norton couldn't handle an errant pitch in his own end zone and was forced to jump on it.
Things only got worse for Whittell in the second half, beginning with a penalty before it even started for being tardy in its return to the field. Two plays in, Buyak was intercepted by Wegener, and the Highlanders converted the turnover into a 79-yard drive capped by a 28-yard TD run by Herrera - in which he turned on the burners in the open field to avoid a tackle by Sprock.
Now leading 35-7, Steinmeyer received a punt early in the fourth quarter and returned it 35 yards for another score, pushing the lead to 43-7 after the two-point conversion.
With 1:28 left on the clock, Herrera, already with a monster game, took the handoff, burst through a well-blocked line and was gone for an 80-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score at the final margin.
"That was unbelievable," Clouthier, who started in place of QB Christian Biscotti, said of Herrera's performance. "He came out here and was way sick, but the line opened holes for him, and he's a great player."
Buyak led the Warriors with 180 yards passing on 10-of-19, with one interception. He also rushed for a team-high 30 yards. Sprock caught four passes for 142 yards.
Incline improved to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in league, while Whittell fell to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in league.
"I'm extremely pleased with my team," said Conn, who complimented the play of his offensive line, as well as Biscotti on defense. "They took this opportunity in a tight rival game with playoff implications for both teams, and they were able to deliver on it."