Miners plan to dig deep to test Warriors | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Miners plan to dig deep to test Warriors

by dan thomas

Whittell’s football Warriors could not have picked a better rest date, and they couldn’t pick a better opponent to test how well-rested they really are on Saturday.

The Warriors (1-4 overall, 1-2 in Northern Nevada 3A Division II football) return to action after their Oct. 9 rest date, when perennial powerhouse and 1998 state runner-up Manogue visits Zephyr Cove on Saturday. With more than a score of returning seniors, Manogue is far from being ripe for the picking, but Whittell will have a healthy, rested, and regrouped Warriors squad to test the visiting Miners.

“We’re kind of hoping maybe they’re looking past us to their next game,” said Whittell head coach John Summers, whose Warriors opened league play Sept. 18 with a 24-22 home win over Incline that broke a 21-game losing streak.

“We’re about as healthy as we can be,” Summers said. “It kind of helps with Trent (Gordon’s) shoulder and a couple of other injuries the kids suffered at Yerington.”

Whittell managed to win its league opener despite its short roster, and stayed competitive in losses to Dayton and Yerington as the injuries shortened it further. The Warriors forfeited their first game to Battle Mountain, and lost 67-14 to Rite of Passage before beating Incline.

Manogue, though, brings a 6-0 record, and the most complete roster in Northern Nevada 3A football to Zephyr Cove for Saturday’s game. Manogue entered the season in a position different from most Northern Nevada 3A football teams. While many coaches are dealing with personnel shortages, Manogue returns most of the pieces that propelled the Miners to a 10-2 record last year and an appearance in the state championship game. The biggest change has been at head coach, where Bill Branca takes over for Tony Amantia, who departed for 4A Wooster.

“Right now, we’re mainly just working on things to better ourselves as we play our games,” Branca said.

Manogue did lose its best offensive lineman, guard Brian Kehoe, with a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury in the first game, but little else has changed. The Miners stay on the ground with the wing T offense; senior quarterback Chris Butler will split snaps Saturday with junior Josh Leothold; and both will hand off to a cadre of running backs that includes five seniors. Backs Justyn Midanik, Toby Gansert, Chris Voigts, Darby Jones and Nick Fisher share carries with junior Dan Hansen.

“They run the ball really well,” Summers said. “They have probably four running backs who can get the job done.”

To get the most mileage out of the wing T, teams typically rely on solid blocking, running and mix in the quarterback’s sleight-of-hand. When the offense is executing right, defenders have a hard time picking up which of the four running backs is carrying the ball. Whittell’s defenders had that difficulty at Yerington, but now have experience against the wing T.

“We’re going to have to play a whole lot better defense than we did against Yerington,” Summers said.

Despite having more healthy players, the Warriors still didn’t have enough to run the wing T with the scout team. Instead, Whittell’s defense has focused on fundamentals, keeping offensive players in front, and eliminating the breakdowns that have hurt them in Whitell’s losses.

“I think (Summers) is doing a really good thing, especially because he’s got really young kids,” said Branca, whose Miners also faced Yerington, and defeated the Lions 49-7. “Working on the basics like that is one of the most important things. You do need to see a little bit of that type of offense to key in on it successfully.”

Offensively, Whittell is planning to attack Branca’s 5-2 defense with a balanced pro-set attack. Halfbacks Chauncey Lane and Matt Wiggins carry the load on the ground, and present defenses with two different problems. Wiggins can punish teams running between the tackles, while Lane has been a breakaway threat bouncing the ball outside. Yerington makes few changes, no matter what offense it is facing.

“We like to run to the ball and make hits,” Branca said. “Our biggest thing is we’re really going to come after you and make you throw the ball.”

Lane, though, isn’t Whittell’s only big-play option. Senior quarterback Gordon passed for 315 yards against Yerington with a sore shoulder, and returns to the field Saturday after resting the ailing joint for a week.

“He’s throwing the ball pretty well, and he can move around pretty well, so hopefully he can go the whole game against Manogue, at least on offense,” Summers said.

Whittell has thrived this year on big plays. But Summers would like the Warriors to sustain drives and hold the ball longer. Still, they have been working on the passing attack this week, to keep teams from stacking the line against Lane, Wiggins and Gordon.

Manogue stands as a counterpoint to the decline of Northern Nevada 3A football. While many teams are dealing with personnel shortages before dropping to 2A, Manogue has 22 returning seniors, nearly as many juniors, and smotherted its toughest competition – North Tahoe, Truckee and Fernley – in its first three games. Now, the Miners are in the business of leaving their impression on the teams that won’t play them next year.

“It’s a good way to go out and, at the same time, we want to make a statement to the rest of the 3A down the road that you guys better be ready,” Branca said.

Depth is very much an issue at Whittell. But depth won’t win any games until the substitutes get in and play.

“I told the kids, they’re a good team, but they can only put 11 on the field, just like we do,” Summers said.

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