Incline Village hosts rival North Tahoe tonight
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Incline assistant football coach Rob Green was about to have the Highlanders start a one-on-one physical tackling drill when he said, “You know guys, North Tahoe is going to be in our house in 48 hours.”
Defensive coordinator Justin Garcia quickly piped in with, “Whose house?”
On cue, the rest of Highlanders yelled, “Our house!”
The chant echoed well beyond the stadium and into the surrounding neighborhood.
The Highlanders are fired up to host their friends and rivals, the North Tahoe Lakers, at 7 p.m. Friday night in a battle for North Shore bragging rights. It will also be the 2A Northern League opener for both teams.
“This game means so much since the schools don’t like each other very much,” said Incline sophomore running back Brad Rye. “You win the game and this is your lake.”
The Lakers have owned the lake for the past year after beating the Highlanders 16-13 in overtime last season in Tahoe City. The loss broke Incline’s five-game winning streak in the series.
“Last year they caught that pass in overtime, it was a painful loss,” said sophomore lineman Marco Barraza. “I want to beat North Tahoe bad.”
Since 2006, the teams have played nine times with Incline winning six. The Highlanders last beat the Lakers in 2016 at home, 6-0.
Incline started its season last week with a 34-6 home win over Valley Christian while North Tahoe lost 44-23 to California School for the Deaf.
Highlander quarterback Dylan Cleary threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns while also running for another and the defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns courtesy of juniors Zach Pexa and Kai Martinez.
It was a home-crowd pleasing performance that the Highlanders are hoping to duplicate that tonight in what they expect will be a crazy atmosphere.
“Everybody will be watching,” Barraza said. “It means a lot to everybody in Incline since we are rivals. It’s gonna be very loud, exciting and everybody will be out cheering us on. It’ll be devastating if we lose.”
Rye said the team has had good practices this week and even though he grew up playing with a lot of the kids on the Lakers, there hasn’t been any trash talking this week between the squads. It’s been all business.
“I grew up playing football with most of those kids and it’s a rivalry that I really want to win,” said Rye, who had a team-high 80 rushing yards on eight carries in the opener. “For me and my friends, we’ll be nice after the game and catch up with each other.”
Incline head coach Brian Martinez has coached a lot of North Tahoe kids in Pop Warner and said that’s part of what makes the rivalry special.
“Most of the players have been teammates at some point,” Martinez said. “They all get after it on the field. They all have that pride, they want to win. But as soon as the play is over they help each other up off the field. They’re all friends after and before.”
Martinez said North Tahoe’s Thomas Mercogliano is a good quarterback that can run and throw equally well.
Mercogliano, a senior, threw for over 200 yards and rushed for over 100 in the Lakers season-opening loss.
But there will be no surprises. There may be trick plays but all the players and coaches know the abilities of all the athletes on the field.
“We have to be ready for everything,” Martinez said. “We know what each other can do on the field. It’s what competition should be, on the field it’s all effort and then afterward you shake their hands and be friends again. It’s super fun to watch. It’s always the biggest game. We expect the stands packed on both sides. A lot of alumni and the whole town comes out. It’s a small town and a lot of pride.”