Warriors’ comeback falls short
YERINGTON – With its offense sputtering throughout a boiling autumn afternoon, the Whittell High School football team turned to its defense to try to salvage a Northern 2A League-opening victory against Rite of Passage.
A desert swarm of defenders nearly executed the comeback.
Whittell scored nine unanswered points to start the second half and held the Rams scoreless until Darrion Garry peeled off a game-clinching 65-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes to go in ROP’s 21-9 victory.
The Warriors trailed 13-0 at halftime as the Rams scored twice on long pass plays. But Whittell didn’t show any locker room lag to start the second half, as Cody Nelson forced a fumble and pounced on it at the Ram 4. Two plays later, Phil Gielow bulled in on a 2-yard touchdown run and Nelson converted the kick, pulling the Warriors to within 13-7.
ROP (4-0) didn’t fare any better on its second possession of the second half as Warriors’ defensive end Nick Warner collected back-to-back quarterback sacks – the last of which resulted in a two-points safety.
“Other than last week, I’ve always looked at them as a second-half team ever since we started coaching,” said coach David Atherton of his Whittell players. “Something happens in the locker room at halftime, the things that we say. It’s not even like we are super aggressive as coaches; we just say it’s heart and attitude.
“Sure enough, it came out, and they fought.”
With ROP’s once-commanding lead sliced to 13-9, the game developed into a defensive struggle, which reaped a rash of turnovers.
“We wanted it, but hands down this isn’t the ROP we played last year. These (guys) are a lot bigger and they’re a lot stronger,” Warner said. “They worked us, and we worked them.”
Atherton rotated Nelson, a senior, and freshman Austin Buyak at quarterback and neither player was able to lead a scoring drive against a staunch ROP defense.
“From what I heard about last week was, with Cody at quarterback, we moved the ball a little,” Atherton said. “Buyak is young and he looks up to these guys. He’s a tough young man, and he wants to get better.
“His attitude was: ‘Coach, put Nelson in at quarterback. I’ll watch him, and let me learn from him.’
When Buyak wasn’t behind center, Atherton split him out as a wide receiver.
“I have a responsibility to build this kid into a dynamic football player for years to come,” Atherton said. “He’s got learning to do. I don’t want to take him out of the quarterback rotation.”
For the second straight game Whittell struggled to find the end zone. Two interceptions by ROP halted Whittell scoring chances in the first half.
While Whittell tried to loosen ROP’s aggressive defense with short passes and handoffs to Nelson and Gielow, the Rams attacked the Warriors with deep tosses.
Two of them paid off. Davon Menefee made 34- and 38-yard touchdown receptions to put the Rams ahead 13-0.
Whittell nearly got one of the scores back in the closing minutes of the first half, but time expired after Gielow caught a short pass over the middle and was brought down at the ROP 15.
The Warriors’ defense repeatedly came up with big plays in the final 24 minutes. In addition to Warner’s sacks, Austin Norton ran down Dalrey Paige as he broke loose for a 52-yard run to the Whittell 36. Gielow made a clutch first-down-saving tackle along the sideline midway through the fourth quarter, and Sam Harris and Warner came away with fumble recoveries that prevented ROP from expanding its lead.
“It’s all about heart,” Warner said. “In positions like that where the tempo is constantly getting screwed up, it’s about who can fire back the hardest.”
But four fourth-quarter interceptions did in the Warriors. Charles Woods and Leopina Angilau each came away with two picks in the final 12 minutes.
Both teams appeared to wear down as temperatures reached the low 90s at ROP’s Silver State Academy.
“I love night games,” Warner said.
Warner and the Warriors (1-3) will only have to wait until Friday to play under the lights. The challenge will be enormous since the opponent is Lovelock, last year’s state runner-up.
“I’m excited because those are the teams I want to play,” Atherton said. “I have a lot of work to do with the rest of the coaches to prepare for Lovelock.”
Vikings to clash with the Wooster Colts
South Tahoe travels to Wooster on Saturday afternoon, seeking its first Sierra Division victory.
One of the Vikings’ two victories last season came against the Colts. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. in Reno.
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