TRUCKEE, Calif. - Truckee football fans had seen this before - their team on the brink of elimination, just one win away from another state championship appearance.
The Wolverines did not let their faithful down a year ago, when they eked out a narrow comeback win over Fallon to earn a fourth consecutive state title berth. They did not let them down Saturday.
On a chilly day complete with occasional snow flurries, Truckee dialed up its intensity late in its state semifinal against visiting Cheyenne, forcing three fumbles in the fourth quarter and scoring 13 unanswered points to turn an 18-13 deficit into a 26-18 win.
"I think we kept everybody here," said Truckee head coach Bob Shaffer, speaking of the overflowing crowd packed into a snowy Surprise Stadium. "I don't think anyone left."
The comeback victory sends the Wolverines to their fifth straight Division I-A state championship, and a fifth consecutive state title showdown against Southern Nevada nemesis Moapa Valley. Truckee has won state the past three years, losing only one game along the way.
"I'm proud of the young men who made this happen," Shaffer said. "That was a good, athletic football team. But the kids and coaching staff, after making some adjustments, persevered and came through in the end. I thought we bent at times but didn't break. We only allowed the one big play."
The game was a barnburner from the start as the DI-A powers - Truckee an 11-time state champion, Cheyenne a Division I playoff team just a year ago - swapped leads on four occasions.
After an evenly matched first half that ended in a 13-12 Truckee advantage, the Desert Shields briefly seized the momentum late in the third quarter when senior running back Myloe Lewis ran into a pack of Wolverine defenders and somehow broke free for a 52-yard touchdown, giving the visitors a five-point edge entering the fourth quarter.
But the Wolverines refused to go down without a fight.
They forced Lewis into a fumble and recovered it at the Cheyenne 40-yard line, then scored 11 plays later when Jake Pettit punched the ball across the goal line from 4 yards out. With 6 minutes left in the game, Truckee had regained the lead, 20-18, after Louden Smith kicked through the PAT.
Four plays into Cheyenne's ensuing possession, Graham Christian applied a hit to Lewis that jarred the ball loose again, and senior quarterback and linebacker Erik Holmer picked it up and returned it 30 yards to the house, outrunning the pursuing Gale Pierce.
The extra point sailed wide left, leaving Truckee up by eight points with 4:21 left in the game.
Truckee put the skids on Cheyenne's comeback hopes four plays into its next drive when it forced quarterback Darrion Hammond into another fumble that Truckee recovered.
"It was a good game. We had our opportunities," said Cheyenne head coach David Cochran. "When you turn the ball over in this environment, it will hurt you every time. They capitalized on our mistakes. I give them credit. They've got a good culture here, and I wish them the best of luck."
The Desert Shields had one final chance after a Truckee three-and-out, starting at their own 23-yard line with 1:31 on the clock. But the prolific running team was forced to air it out, and Jake Pettit intercepted a deep pass by Hammond six plays into the drive to seal the Truckee win.
"That was definitely a team victory. We needed everybody on that," said Holmer, who finished 15-of-26 passing for 180 yards, with two interceptions and one touchdown. "I'm so emotionally exhausted. It was a fight for four quarters. They're the best team we've played all year. But we came through at the end."
"It's one of those things we always talk about that's kind of cliche, that you've gotta play four quarters," Shaffer said. "I thought it was a pretty even battle for three quarters, and then in the fourth quarter our kids found a little something extra in the reserve tank, dug a little deeper and responded with some big plays. The seniors didn't want to end the season here."
Holmer carried the Wolverines offensively with his arm and his legs, as he rushed for a team-high 71 yards on 18 attempts. He also helped pick up several big first downs with his play-making ability, including two crucial fourth-down conversions on Truckee's final go-ahead drive, both on completions to Adam Morgan.
"Their QB is pretty crafty," Cochran said. "He's their stud. He made plays. We tried to contain him, but you can only hold a kid like that back for so long."
Lewis was the workhorse for the Desert Shields, running the ball 36 times for 186 yards, with three touchdowns. The Wolverines, however, who pride themselves on their defense, managed to hold the senior to only the one big play late in the third.
The Wolverines opened the game with momentum on their side after Smith's short kickoff was mishandled, and Truckee's Javier Virrey recovered. Given a short field, Truckee marched 29 yards in five plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Tyler Curtis.
Cheyenne had an answer. The visitors proceeded to drive 62 yards on 11 plays, aided by a personal foul on Truckee, before Lewis found the end zone from the 1-inch line. All three of the Desert Shields' two-point conversions in the game failed, leaving them trailing 7-6 after their first score.
Cheyenne then forced a Truckee three-and-out before driving down the field again behind the running of Lewis, who steadily gained moderate chunks of yardage. Lewis scored from 3 yards out to end the 63-yard drive, which adjusted the score to 12-7, Cheyenne.
After Holmer was intercepted in the end zone by Martel Evans - the junior had both of Cheyenne's picks in the game - Truckee regained possession deep in Cheyenne territory following a poor snap on a punt attempt. Holmer then connected with Morgan on an 18-yard touchdown pass. The Desert Shields blocked the extra point as Truckee took a 13-12 lead into the half.
The Wolverines were never able to establish a consistent running game against the large Cheyenne defense. They finished with just 66 rushing yards on 30 attempts.
"Their D was pretty stout today," Holmer said. "We knew coming in that they were going to be good. But we found holes and made the big plays when we needed them."
Truckee improved to 10-1 with the win. Cheyenne finished 9-3 overall in its first year in the Division I-A.
Truckee and Moapa Valley, which defeated Lowry 43-0 in the other semifinal Saturday, will meet in the state championship Saturday, Nov. 17, at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Kickoff is 6 p.m.