INCLINE VILLAGE — The Highlanders must feel like they ran into a brick wall the past three Friday nights.
Incline’s football schedule began innocuous enough — with a 34-12 win at Silver Stage (1-2) back on Sept. 7. It got a whole lot tougher after that.
The Highlanders have faced three juggernaut programs in the past three weeks, starting with a legitimate California opponent in Quincy and following with two of Nevada’s top Division III powers. On Friday the defending state champion Pershing County Mustangs were in town to dish out a 49-0 defeat.
“We’ve been focusing on incremental improvements and small victories, because the kids get frustrated playing these bigger, older teams,” Incline coach Scott Conn said. “So we try to focus on getting a first down, forcing a punt, causing a turnover — things like that. And I thought we did a good job.”
Incline succeeded in improving from the previous week, Conn said. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, they lost three more players in the game to injury, including junior starting quarterback Jack Clouthier, who Conn said suffered a hairline fracture above his ankle when it was rolled over on a sack. The injury ended his season.
“We worked a lot on various techniques, and after watching the video and everything, the guys really improved. I thought we put a nice showing on them,” Conn said. “But we had three starters already out from the Yerington game, and three more guys went down (Friday night). Jack is a tremendous loss for us.”
Sophomore third-string quarterback Alex Zissis filled in admirably for Clouthier, who left in the third quarter with nine completions on 16 attempts, with 104 yards and an interception.
Incline, which converted 14 first downs in the game, managed to move the ball mostly through the air, as the Mustangs limited the Highlanders to minus-3 yards rushing. Owen Graffis, Ben Snyder and Zissis (before taking over at QB) highlighted Incline’s receiving game, as Graffis hauled in six catches for 40 yards, Zissis caught two balls for 37 yards and Snyder caught two for 33 yards.
Snyder, a junior tight end and linebacker, also finished with a team-high 15 tackles (seven solo) to earn the designation as Incline’s Player of the Game. Clouthier was the Offensive Player of the Game, and senior Kevin Kurashewich, who recorded 11 tackles (seven solo) was the Defensive Player of the Game.
The Mustangs rushed for 366 yards, led by senior running back Jacob Flores’ 157 yards on 17 carries, with three touchdowns.
“All-in-all, I thought it was a valiant effort by our young team against the defending state champs,” Conn said.
Pershing County, which improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in Division III play, is knotted with Yerington atop the league standings. The two undefeated clubs square off in a battle for first place at Yerington on Friday.
Incline, meanwhile, fell to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in league. Conn said the Highlanders must win two of their final three games to have a shot at the postseason.
First up on that list is Rite of Passage (ROP), as the Highlanders host the Rams (3-2, 1-1) in a makeup game this Thursday (Oct. 17) at 6 p.m. Incline ends the regular season at West Wendover (0-6, 0-2) on Oct. 25 and at home against Battle Mountain (2-4, 1-1) on Nov. 1.
“Every down is an important down for us,” Conn said.
Conn said Incline will get starting center Joe Sunseri back from injury Thursday, although he noted that Brandon Judd did a fine job filling in against Pershing County. The coach said running back and backup quarterback Kelsey Philpott’s return is questionable.