TRUCKEE — Hopes of winning a fifth consecutive state championship had long since faded for the Wolverines. You wouldn’t know it by watching their final game.
Fueled by Truckee football pride and tradition, the Wolverines did their best to wash away the memory of their first losing season since 2006 as they trounced visiting South Tahoe 57-9 to end the regular season Saturday.
“Coach talked about the preservation of our tradition,” said Truckee senior running back Austin Vance, who ended his high school career with a monster game — 218 yards rushing on eight carries, with four touchdowns. “We’re not the best team, but I fought with these guys for four years. Last game of the year, we just brought everything we had.”
“We practiced hard all week,” said senior receiver Sean Daniel. “The seniors really wanted to get it done. It was the last game for a lot of us. We wanted to end on a good note. Truckee pride right there.”
“It was just about coming out and playing with my brothers, that’s it — and making coach Ivens proud,” said senior fullback Lance Bokinskie, adding when asked if he thought he did, “I hope so.”
It’s been a tough year for Truckee. The four-time defending state champs finished 3-6 and became the first Truckee team in 25 years (1988) to miss the postseason.
First-year head coach Josh Ivens, Truckee’s longtime defensive coordinator who took over for the retired Bob Shaffer, had his work cut out for him after losing every starting defensive player to graduation. Combine that with low numbers and injuries, and the Wolverines struggled from the onset against teams they once handled with ease.
“I’m very proud of the seniors,” said Ivens, a Truckee player himself in the early 1990s. “I kept telling them that, it’s pretty easy to get to practice and work hard when you’re on a 41-game win streak (last season). But when things are down and things are tough, these guys, in the end, showed up every day and grinded it out. We’re just happy to get the ‘W’ and send the seniors out the right way.”
Unlike much of the season, Truckee’s performance Saturday was reminiscent of its dominant run over the previous four years.
Led by an efficient running game that was aided by missed tackles by the Vikings (1-8), Vance and the Wolverines repeatedly gouged the South Tahoe defense with big scoring plays. They finished with a season-high 435 yards rushing on 34 attempts.
Truckee’s defense led by seniors Mitch Harrity and Logan Nicholas also played well throughout most of the contest. The unit held the Vikings to 200 yards of total offense and contained them to a single touchdown, while swarming to the ball and hitting with authority.
“They drove a little bit on us, but we were making them earn every inch,” Ivens said. “We also were able to tackle better today and look a little bit like a Truckee team.”
The Wolverines jumped out to a 20-0 first-quarter lead as Vance ignited the crowd with a 40-yard touchdown reception and a 72-yard touchdown run. And he was just heating up. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior went on to score on a 52-yard run in the second quarter and a 60-yard run in the third.
Bokinskie contributed with some hard running of his own, as the 5-11, 190-pound senior broke tackles all game and finished with 150 yards rushing on 10 carries, with three touchdowns.
Truckee couldn’t have asked for a better start. Senior Thor Retzlaff, who returned from a shoulder injury to see limited action, caught the Vikings off guard with an onside kick that was recovered by Truckee sophomore Sean Bokinskie at the South Tahoe 40-yard line.
Six plays later Lance Bokinskie smashed his way across the goal line from 3 yards out, and the Wolverines were on the board.
After a South Tahoe three-and-out, Vance caught a short screen pass and burst into the secondary behind a couple of good blocks. No one caught him from there as he sprinted 40 yards for the TD. Retzlaff kicked through the PAT, and Truckee led 14-0 with 6:46 left in the first quarter.
South Tahoe responded by marching from its own 38-yard line to the Truckee 29 in nine plays, as senior quarterback Steven Steed connected with receivers Jared Fajman and Kirby David on completions of 14, 12 and 13 yards.
Truckee’s defense put an end to the drive, however, and one play after forcing a turnover on downs, Vance took a deceptive handoff by quarterback Louden Smith and bolted through the line and into the open field en route to a 72-yard TD run. Retzlaff’s extra point missed, leaving the Wolverines up 20-0 late in the first quarter.
The Vikings seemed poised for a comeback attempt in the second quarter. They opened it with a 10-play scoring drive highlighted by a 21-yard catch-and-run by Fajman on a lateral pass and an 18-yard completion to Fajman. On third-and-11 from the Truckee 14, Steed rolled out to his right and fired a strike on the move to an open Kyle Miller in the end zone.
Stone Merkley kicked through the PAT as South Tahoe cut the lead to 20-7.
The Wolverines had a quick answer. Two plays into their ensuing drive, Vance broke loose again for a 52-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 27-7.
Quinton Ritter cut Truckee’s next drive short when he intercepted a long pass intended for Retzlaff in the end zone. Truckee then handed South Tahoe two points late in the quarter when a long snap sailed over the head of Daniel on a punt attempt and bounced out the back of the end zone for a safety.
The Vikings returned the favor with their own safety in almost identical fashion at the start of the third quarter, adjusting the score to 29-9.
It was all Truckee from there, as Vance opened the ensuing drive with a 60-yard touchdown run barely touched.
After a South Tahoe punt, Lance Bokinskie broke free of a tackle, then another, and rumbled up the sideline. A defender closed in on him as he neared the goal line, but with a final lunge he squashed the pylon to complete the 58-yard touchdown run. Retzlaff kicked the PAT to give Truckee a 43-9 lead with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Truckee coaches rewarded Retzlaff, who played despite an injured shoulder, with a 1-yard touchdown run that capped a time-consuming, 12-play drive to start the fourth quarter.
South Tahoe nearly scored a final time after a pass interference and unsportsmanlike penalty by the Wolverines gave the Vikings a first down at the Truckee 12-yard line. But on a second-and-10 play, junior defensive back Gabe Deiro stepped in front of a Steed pass near the goal line and returned it out to the 34.
Five plays later Bokinskie rounded out the scoring with a hard, 20-yard touchdown run.
“I’m very happy with the way we played,” Ivens said. “We had our best week of practice this week – a lot of energy and kind of a relaxed feeling for once. I think our guys throughout the year were just uptight. You saw it from the sidelines when we were playing.
“When things didn’t go our way, we’d get tight and our eyes would get big and we wouldn’t seize the moment as much. But this week guys were relaxed and hitting each other and practicing hard, and it showed up on the football field today.”
Harrity, who “was all over the place wrecking people,” Ivens said, finished with a team-high 11 tackles, while Eli Delauney and Nicholas each had eight tackles. Nicholas added two sacks, and Greg Engler and Conor Jacobs had one apiece.
Steed led the Vikings offensively, as he completed 12 of his 24 pass attempts for 140 yards, with one interception and one TD. Fajman posted a game-high 50 yards receiving.
“I thought they battled,” South Tahoe coach Kevin Hennessee said of his players. “We wanted to do something for the seniors. But ultimately, for us to get better, we need to get stronger and faster. We have to work hard in the offseason and get this turned around.”