Truckee football: Four-Peat
November 21, 2012
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – At this rate, Bob Shaffer is going to develop a flinch by association with water coolers.
The longtime Truckee football coach has had one dumped on his head each of the past four years – always around the same time in November.
The Wolverines doused him once again with a direct-hit pour Saturday night in Las Vegas, minutes before breaking into full celebration with hundreds of diehard fans.
In similar fashion to the last three years, Truckee soundly defeated Southern Nevada nemesis Moapa Valley, 34-10, to claim a fourth consecutive Division I-A state championship.
“Wow, huh?” said a smiling Shaffer after the celebration settled from a frenzy to an ecstatic buzz, still soaked from his shoulders down. “Very impressive, because this was probably the second-best Moapa team that we’ve faced, ever.”
The Pirates, with 15 state championships under their belt, are never a pushover. They certainly weren’t Saturday night.
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The defending champs simply executed better, fueled by school pride as a large contingent of former players donning state rings and lettermans shouted from the sideline.
“That’s huge for us,” senior linebacker Graham Christian said of the alumni support. “We’re all prided on tradition, so it’s definitely a good feeling when they show up and are cheering us on.”
Truckee needed all the support it could get early as Moapa Valley imposed its will through one quarter, also motivated by a large crowd filling most of the home stands of the Bishop Gorman stadium.
While the Pirates controlled the clock with two time-consuming drives to open the game, however, the Wolverines limited the damage to a field goal before flashing some of its big-play offense.
Through the first quarter and into the second, Moapa Valley ran 28 offensive plays to Truckee’s three, yet only led 3-0.
By the time Truckee completed its fifth play from scrimmage, the Pirates trailed. By half, they trailed by even more, despite running 19 more plays than the Wolverines.
“We had missed opportunities on those early drives,” said Moapa Valley head coach Brent Lewis, whose team entered the break down 14-3. “We go score those, and it’s probably a different ballgame – force them to come from behind. But you got to hand it to them. You’ve got to play four quarters, and we probably played two and a half. That’s kind of been the story of my life against these guys. They just seem to have my number.”
The Pirates looked poised for a comeback after forcing Truckee into a punt to start the second half and then driving 49 yards for a touchdown, closing the gap to 14-10.
But the Wolverines responded with their own long touchdown drive, capped by a 1-yard keeper by senior quarterback Erik Holmer, who turned in the biggest game of his highlight-filled Truckee career. After Louden Smith’s extra point, Truckee led 21-10.
“I thought that was the key drive of game. That really took the life out of us and took any kind of momentum we had,” Lewis said.
The Wolverines were not through.
They added another impressive touchdown on a 30-yard strike from Holmer to Adam Morgan early in the fourth quarter, then scored a final touchdown of the night after Morgan picked off a pass by Moapa Valley quarterback Josh Repp.
“Sometimes it takes us a little bit to get in a groove, but once we’re in a groove, it’s hard to stop us,” Morgan said.
Shaffer inserted his second string in the final minutes, about the time senior starters Tyler Griffin, Benito Gurrola and Nico Duner snuck up from behind and emptied the contents of the cooler on his head.
“I’m just speechless,” said Holmer, before finding the words to explain his emotion. “Everything just came down to one moment, and I’m just so happy we could go out like this – 34-10 against such a good team. I’m just so proud of all of these guys and our coaching staff. We have a really close, tight-knit family on this football team. I’m so happy right now.”
Holmer wasn’t the only Wolverine to emphasize the family theme.
“We just believed in ourselves, and I believed in my teammates, and we got it done. We’re a family, and that’s what won it today,” said senior defensive back Javier Virrey.
Added senior linebacker Julian Aguirre: “I feel like we all came together as a family and just got things done. We realized what we needed to do to get to this spot, and then finish what we started.”
About the only thing that would have made the Wolverines’ fourth straight title any sweeter, Aguirre said, would have been a perfect record. They entered the season on a 36-game winning streak, which ended at 41 when Truckee lost 7-0 to Fernley on Oct. 6.
“It would have been nicer with the streak intact, but either way it’s still a part of history,” Aguirre said. “A four-peat. That’s unthinkable.”
“It’s something incredible,” said senior tight end and defensive end Zak Pettit, who sacked Repp three times Saturday night for a total loss of 29 yards. “It’s something monumental I think. Our senior year we ended with a bang. It’s just really exciting.”
Things didn’t look good for Truckee from the start.
The Pirates, who had outscored their opponents 634-131 and were 12-1 entering Saturday’s fifth consecutive state championship against the Wolverines, employed their bruising, multi-faceted running game early. It worked, as Moapa Valley drove 68 yards on the opening possession while eating nearly 10 minutes of clock.
But Truckee’s defense stiffened, stopping the Pirates at the 7-yard line to force a field goal by Kris Postma.
Still, things did not look good for the visiting team after Truckee went three-and-out on its first possession and Moapa Valley again began to drive down the field behind the hard running of Jared Repp, Conner Mortensen, Sean McConnell and Kasen Hughes.
The Pirates drove from their own 30-yard line to the Truckee 23, aided by an unnecessary roughness penalty and a facemask, before turning the ball over on downs.
Then it was the Wolverines’ turn. On second-and-13 from their own 20, Holmer found a wide-open Pettit on a deep route, and the big senior outran the Moapa Valley secondary 80 yards to the house.
Truckee’s sideline erupted as the Wolverines reversed their negative momentum, taking over the lead at 7-3 with 7:42 left in the second quarter.
“Coach Shaffer is always making up schemes that work,” Pettit said of the play. “Same thing all year, he’s had some really good play-calling. Erik threw it to me and I ran, and that was about it. It was a great pass.”
Besides leading his team with 52 rushing yards, Holmer completed 16 of his 25 attempts for 258 yards, with four touchdown passes and no interceptions.
“Erik definitely had a great game. I really saw him progress throughout the year,” Pettit said. “He had that thumb injury early in the year, but then he finished so strong. He’s one of my best friends, so I’m really happy for him.”
After forcing the Pirates into a couple of punts, Truckee drove from its own 44 into the end zone again on eight plays. This time it was Griffin making a skilled catch just off of the turf in heavy traffic to complete the 7-yard score. Smith’s extra point extended Truckee’s lead to 14-3 with 14 seconds before half.
“In the first quarter they were driving on us, definitely. We made some mistakes and had some penalties, but we kind of bounced back and made good plays when we needed to. That definitely helped us,” Holmer said.
The Pirates are a proud program, though, and they weren’t about to go down without some resistance.
They forced Truckee into a punt to open the second half before mounting a timely scoring drive starting at the Truckee 49-yard line. Hughes wrestled free from a tackle and took the ball into the end zone on a hard run from 12 yards out, cutting the lead to four after Postma’s extra point.
The Wolverines needed an answer. And they got it. They marched 69 yards on eight plays, using first-down completions to Pettit and Griffin and a 33-yard run by Holmer to set up a 1-yard quarterback sneak. Smith’s extra point pushed the lead back to a relatively safe margin, at 21-10, with 2:05 remaining in the third quarter.
Truckee made sure the momentum stayed on its side for good after forcing a three-and-out and a shanked punt that sailed out of bounds at the Truckee 30-yard line.
On the next play, Holmer threw a perfectly placed ball over the shoulder of Morgan, who hauled it in over his defender as he crossed the goal line. A bad snap on the PAT left the score at 27-10 with 11:54 left in the game.
“I think we might have caught them off-guard just a little bit because when we went in at halftime, we said that we didn’t want to come out and try not to lose this game. We want to be very aggressive and continue to put points on the board and win it that way,” Shaffer said.
“I think they might have expected us to run the ball a little bit more. But it’s so hard running the football against them, and they were so aggressive up front that we figured, if they’re going to give us the pass we’re going to take it.”
Facing a 17-point deficit, the Pirates were forced to go away from their strength and air it out. After a nice kickoff return by McConnell to the Truckee 36, Repp completed a 13-yard pass to the senior running back to start their ensuing drive. Four plays later, however, Morgan camped under an overthrown pass and returned the interception 45 yards out to midfield.
Lewis conceded that the Wolverines took the Pirates out of their offensive game plan.
“Oh yeah, definitely. We’re not built for comebacks; we’re built for playing with a lead,” Lewis said. “Truckee is not an easy team to come back on, either. I mean, their defensive schemes are just too tough.”
Ten plays later, Holmer hooked up with senior Tyler Curtis on a short pass, and Curtis steamrolled his last man to beat, Landon Willard, at the goal line to record another Truckee touchdown. Smith’s extra point brought the score to its final margin with 6:40 left.
“I’m feeling great,” Curtis said after the game. “We did our job. We did what we wanted to do, which was to finish them. We just kept our heads up and kept driving.”
Truckee’s second string, led by running backs Austin Vance and Lance Bokinskie, almost scored another touchdown in the final minutes but turned the ball over on downs at the Moapa Valley 17.
Shortly after, Truckee fans and players stormed the field, holding four fingers in the air as they hugged and tackled each other in celebration.
“I can’t really explain it. It’s an awesome feeling to be a part of it, the four-peat,” said Christian, who gutted out his final high school games with an injured shoulder. “I’m speechless right now.”
Senior Matt Baumann, who recorded one of the Wolverines’ five sacks in the game, took a moment to reflect on how he felt.
“People will look back on what we’ve done and say, ‘I want to do that. I want to set our own history.’ And hopefully it will help them strive to achieve what we achieved,” he said.
The Wolverines’ fourth straight title extends their total to 12 all time. Shaffer has won nine of those titles in his 18 years as head coach, which is tied with Joe Sellers and Herb Foster in NIAA history.
“It’s awesome,” Pettit said of the latest title. “It’s something great. I love it.”
Truckee also was awarded the academic state title at halftime for earning the highest collective GPA among Division I-A programs, at 3.38.