Incline Village football has high expectations for 2018 | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Incline Village football has high expectations for 2018

Incline a year ago had a very young football team.

The Highlanders ran onto the gridiron with 24 players that included just three seniors and four juniors.

While the team is still on the young side again this year, it has 25 players on the roster and over half are upperclassmen.

And the group is dedicated. They have to be.

"We're Incline so we never have a huge team, but we have a focused team," said Highlanders head coach Brian Martinez. "This year, if you're not wanting to be here 100 percent you're gonna get cut. But if you're giving 100 percent, we want you on this team."

Incline is back to playing for a league title after playing as an independent last year and competing in just seven games (4-3), one was a forfeit victory and two games were against non-varsity competition.

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The Highlanders return to the 2A Northern League and will compete against seven other schools including, defending champ Pershing County, Yerington, Battle Mountain, arch-rival North Tahoe, Silver Stage, West Wendover and White Pine.

"We're hoping for a championship," Martinez said. "Last year we were an independent, so this will be a big test for us, a young team, a small team, we did well as an independent now we're going full varsity. Our goal this year is we start going hard from the very first play. Last year our biggest weakness was we took a whole half to warm up, which is unacceptable. We have to start from the very first play."

Incline returns almost all of its statistical leaders from a year ago, including quarterback Dylan Cleary, running back Brad Rye, receiver Zach Pexa, leading tackler Jorge Cardiel and Trent Green and Marco Barraza who were near the top.

Cleary, a sophomore, is a dual threat on offense. The righty last year completed 56 percent of his passes (57 of 102) while also leading the team in rushing (38 carries, 388 yards).

During a recent six-team scrimmage hosted by Incline, Cleary more or less handed off the ball and dropped back into the pocket. He wasn't asked to use his feet to gain yards other than rolling out to look for his receivers during the opening session.

Cleary's good friend and sophomore teammate JT Page also will see time behind center, Martinez said.

"They're the best of friends since they were little guys," Martinez said. "They've got different skill sets but both will see the field."

Rye was a double threat Saturday, both rushing and catching passes. He was elusive and explosive during the morning session, running for a long score and also hauling in a long touchdown pass from Cleary.

Pexa and Rye combined for 30 receptions during their freshmen seasons. Pexa caught 15 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns and Rye hauled in 16 passes for 255 yards and a score.

Senior Eleazar Santiago was productive last year rushing. He gained the second most yards (31 carries, 188 yards) on the team.

"Our offense, we run a hybrid," Martinez said. "We run things a little different not having huge strength and size."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Highlanders "were very solid" during Saturday's scrimmage, according to Green, a senior starting at safety.

Green said he's excited for what the whole team could accomplish this year and he's especially looking forward to watching a pair of defensive teammates and Cleary run the offense.

"Our defensive end Marco (Barraza) is a powerhouse with a huge heart," Green said. "Jorge (Cardiel) is the most solid tackler I've seen. I've never seen him miss a tackle. And Dylan is unbelievable. He's the fastest guy on the field."

Cardiel made 59 tackles to lead the unit last year and he also made seven fumble recoveries.

Page made four sacks last season while Barraza had three. And Cleary and Pexa both picked off a team-high two passes.

Against Coral Academy Saturday, a non-league opponent Incline will see late in the regular season, the Highlanders didn't give up too many yards or touchdowns.

"We were very competitive," Green said. "We did well against everybody."

Incline will kickoff its season tonight, Aug. 24, with a preseason matchup against Valley Christian. And then the Highlanders will get ready for their most anticipated clash, the league opener against North Tahoe.

While the coaches like to focus one week at a time, the home clash against the Lakers on Friday, Aug. 31, is circled on the calendar. North Tahoe defeated Incline 16-13 in overtime last year for the first time in six games over the last nine seasons.

"We love North Tahoe. We train with them, but we wanna beat them as bad as they wanna beat us," Martinez said. "We start with Valley Christian for a preseason game, that'll be awesome, but we're really looking forward to that North Tahoe game. After that, maybe we'll try to practice together at times this year. We both have small teams so it'll be a little Tahoe cohesiveness."

Green is thinking the Highlanders should make the playoffs when the dust settles in the regular season.

"My expectation, at a minimum, is going to playoffs," Green said. "We have to beat four teams to do that and I think we easily have the ability to do that."