Playoff-bound Warriors’ tenacity too much for lake rival
The Whittell Warriors needed 11 points to advance to the playoffs. They got 30.
Apparently, the Warriors learned from the Hawthorne game, wherein they fumbled the ball so many times.
The Highlanders learned that lesson too, but at a time when it cost them much more than just a league loss.
The Warriors picked up three Incline fumbles and intercepted the ball when Incline left it ripe for the picking to win 30-0 in the last regular season game for both teams. Only the Warriors, however, now advance as the fourth and final seed in the 2A Northern Region Championship, where they will play undefeated Lovelock in the first round Saturday.
It’s the first time Whittell has gone to the playoffs since 2000, and it comes after an 0-9 season that had many wondering whether the school would even be able to field a team in 2002.
That doubt seems far away now.
The Warriors were focused Saturday, and made few mistakes.
The first mistake came from Incline in the form of an interception by senior class president and linebacker Matt Johnson during the Highlanders’ first drive.
The turnover seemed to set the tone of the game. It also gave Whittell a second chance after going five and out on its first drive.
“When we came out were really nervous because we were anxious to win. After that first pick we scored and it turned our spirits around because we knew we could do it,” Johnson said.
Senior quarterback Nick Lowe connected with Alex Swearingen, who recently recovered from a dislocated shoulder, for a 5-yard touchdown pass. Lowe, who went 3 for 9 for 57 yards, then ran in a two-point conversion.
But neither Lowe nor Incline’s senior quarterback Jeffrey White, who went 2 for 5 for 10 yards, were that prolific in the air.
“The game was won at the line of scrimmage today,” said Whittell coach Mike Evans.
And at that line were seniors Joe Ilk, who played with a bad shoulder all season; Ian Haessly, who made Whittell’s only sack; and Ben Boren. Nor can any of the Warriors discount the efforts of Tommy Esquivel, who played on the line despite recent illness; Garrett Swearingen; and center Mike Flanagan.
The Warrior line and secondary stepped up the pressure and provided Lowe and a trio of running backs the opportunity to go big.
And go big they did. The Warriors logged 243 yards running the ball to Incline’s 114.
A big part of that success was due to Swearingen, who not only ran hard after a two week respite on the injured list, but he also filled in as quarterback for Lowe briefly during the second quarter.
“I was fired up to come back and help these guys,” Swearingen said.
Swearingen said his presence in the game may have helped the Warriors’ mentally as well as physically. He amassed 47 yards on seven carries and caught two passes for 24 yards.
The majority of the running game came from perhaps the Warriors’ two toughest weapons, seniors Jake Summers and Casey Canto.
“Whoo-Whoo” Canto rushed 17 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns. That marks the second and third TDs of his football career, stretching all the way back to Pop Warner.
“I would just drop my shoulder and (the Highlanders) would bounce off and I’d get an extra five yards, carrying them with me,” Canto said.
Summers, who coach Evans said is the heart and soul of the Warrior team, took 14 carries for 53 yards.
He scored the Warriors’ second touchdown on a 3-yard run with 5:10 remaining in the second quarter.
Canto scored his first touchdown approximately three minutes later on a 1-yard run after the Highlanders fumbled the kickoff. That gave the Warriors a 22-0 halftime lead.
Canto scored the final touchdown on a 10-yard run with 3:43 remaining in the game.
Canto said that with Swearingen back, the trio of senior running backs is a diverse weapon. It gives each ball carrier an opportunity to rest, which is helpful on defense as well.
The Warriors are healthy and ready to take on the challenge of Lovelock (5-0) in the first round of zone.
According to Evans, who said the team started to peak against Battle Mountain, the team is right where it wants to be.
Without many of its starters, the Warriors executed only 13 plays on offense before the fourth quarter in their two-touchdown loss to Lovelock earlier this year.
WHITTELL 30, INCLINE 0
Incline 0 0 0 0 D 0
Whittell 8 14 0 8 D 30
W D Lowe 5 pass A. Swearingen (Lowe rush) 2:45
W D Summers 3 run (pass failed) 5:10
W D Canto 1 run (Lowe pass A. Swearingen) 2:16
W D Canto 9 run (Canto rush) 3:43
First downs 8 18
Rushes-yds 27-114 49-243
Passing 10 57
Comp-Att 2-5 3-9
Fumbles-lost 4-3 1-0
Penalties 7-65 11-80
Return yds 49 36
Sacks-yds lost 1-3 0
TOP 17:38 30:22
RUSHING D Whittell, Canto 17-89, Summers 14-53, Lowe 8-30, A. Swearingen 7-47, Anton 3-24, Incline, Mares 11-60, Menath 4-16, J. White 6-8, B White 2-6, Herrera 3-16, Fragoso 1-8.
PASSING D Whittell, Lowe 3-9-0 57 1 TD, Incline J. White 2-5-1 10.
RECEIVING D Whittell, Swearingen 2-24 1 TD, Jones 1-33, Incline Herrera 1-2, Defalco 1-8.
RECORDS D Whittell 2-4 in league, 3-5 overall. Incline 2-4 in league
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