Homecoming nail-biter: Incline pushes state champ Pershing to brink, but not over
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Thirty minutes before Incline’s homecoming game started Friday night, there were maybe 30 people mingling around.
By kickoff, the stiff afternoon winds that caused 4 foot waves on Lake Tahoe were mostly gone, stands were overflowing and people lined the dirt track on the Highlanders’ side goal line-to-goal line.
The atmosphere was electric. The sweet smell of barbeque was in the air. The student body was spirited.
“I told the boys before the game it was going to be crowded,” said Incline head coach Brian Martinez. “I had grads coming up to me all week that I didn’t even know, that played here in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And they’re coming out to see what we’re all about because they heard good things.”
And the several hundred in attendance saw good things, even great things.
The defense was physical, ferocious and forced the defending 2A state champions into five turnovers.
The offense answered an early Pershing touchdown and the Highlanders led at the end of the first quarter.
But the lead didn’t last and the storybook ending for the Highlanders turned into a fairytale finish for the Mustangs.
Pershing star senior Ricky Reitz made a spectacular, possible game-saving, interception with about 80 seconds left to preserve a 12-7 Northern League victory over Incline (3-2, 2-2 Northern).
Highlanders defensive coaches preached all night, “Find No. 1 (Reitz). Find No. 1.”
The first priority was to locate if Reitz was behind center, in the backfield or out wide.
Turns out, Reitz’s biggest play came on defense.
Incline had one chance left, ball on their own 16 with 3 minutes, 16 seconds on the clock.
Highlander quarterback Dylan Cleary sliced through the middle for 17 yards on a draw.
Cleary on the next play kept on an option and had nothing. Somehow, the speedster cut back across the field to the far sideline and goes for nine yards.
Cleary on the following snap fired a perfect strike to Brad Rye for a 17-yard gain.
Timeout. Two minutes left.
Incline was moving the ball better than it had all night.
Pershing players were noticeably uncomfortable. It felt like a touchdown was coming.
Cleary, out of the timeout, ran for about five yards, to the Mustang 37.
With the clock ticking, the Highlanders went back to the air.
Cleary was right on target again with a perfect strike to Rye on a similar play as before.
But out of nowhere, Reitz comes flying in and snares the pigskin right before it connects with Rye’s hands, and started sprinting down the sideline.
Rye tracked him down, and almost stripped the ball, but Pershing was able to run out the clock.
“We were marching and No. 1 made a great play,” Martinez said. “You can’t take anything away from him.”
“It was an emotional game, really close,” said senior running back/linebacker Jorge Cardiel. “It was more of a defensive game. We played our hearts out but sometimes the ball doesn’t roll your way, but I’m proud of how we played. It felt like the whole community was here tonight.”
Pershing put together an impressive drive to take an early 6-0 lead after failing on the two-point try.
Late in the first quarter, Reitz made a pitch to nowhere and Rye pounced on the fumble at the Mustang 25.
A few Rye runs got the ball to the goal line where Cleary punched it home on a sneak.
Nick Suter drilled the extra point and Incline led 7-6.
It might not seem like much, but the Highlanders were squashed last year like ants on a hot, flat sidewalk 59-0 in Lovelock, Nev.
“It’s different this year,” said Rye, who added that the huge crowd made it amazing and seem like an NFL game. “We’re bigger, better and know the game more. We played really well tonight and we know what we need to work on. So we’re gonna get to work Monday and we’ll see them again.”
Rye led Incline with 64 yards rushing on 14 attempts while also catching two passes for 22 yards.
Pershing (3-1, 3-0 Northern) added a second touchdown with 5:43 left in the first half to finish the scoring.
Martinez was proud of his troops for their effort and belief. He says it should serve them well in the future starting next Friday, Oct. 4, when they head from the most western part of the state to the most eastern, to face West Wendover (0-4, 0-3 Northern).
“We believed all week we could beat them,” Martinez said. “We could have beaten them. The ball didn’t bounce our way a couple of times, that’s it. Our boys played their hearts out. They did everything we asked. They played hard-nosed football and stood toe-to-toe with the top team in the state. We had them, the whole time it was within our reach. We showed a lot of good things, but we really wanted the win. Now the boys know they can go head-to-head with any team in the state.”
Incline game notes: Jorge Cardiel caused and recovered a fumble inside the Incline 10-yard line with 8:31 left in the first half to stop a long, strong drive by Pershing. … Jeremy Page made an interception at midfield late in the first half. … The defense pressured the Pershing quarterback into a bad pitch and Marco Barazza recovered at the Mustang 17. The Highlanders did not take advantage. … Brody Thralls recovered Pershing’s fourth fumble of the game late in the third quarter.