Stakes high in Whittell-Incline game
As a former player and a head coach/assistant at Whittell High School, John Summers has seen some strange events when the Warriors meet rival Incline on the football field.
There was that time in 1991 that a Huey helicopter flew too close to the Warrior field to drop off a “Go Warriors” banner, scattering debris into spectators. That was a year after Incline made the Warriors wait 20 minutes for the opening kickoff in bone-chilling while the Highlander cheerleaders were dropped off at midfield by a helicopter. Meanwhile, the Incline football team was in its cozy locker room staying warm, anticipating a delayed start.
“It’s been a pretty good crosstown football rivalry for many years, even when I was playing at Whittell,” Summers said. “Every year that game boiled down to see who was going to represent the North in the state championship game.”
In recent history, an alleged Incline coach was caught filming a Whittell practice a few days before the big game. Not that the two schools need any added incentive when they meet on the gridiron.
“It’s the last home game for the seniors. Everyone has a bunch of different reasons, but the big one is that it is Incline,” said Summers, whose Warriors play host to Incline on Friday at noon.
“The rivalry has tailed off the last couple of years because we don’t play them in basketball. But the kids still know enough about Incline to make it a big game.”
Whittell’s inability to field a team in 2003 and a snowstorm in 2004 interrupted the rivalry for two years. Incline won last year’s game 44-3.
As it turns out, the 2006 edition of the rivalry is one of the biggest ever. Incline has a possible playoff game riding on the outcome, while the Warriors are trying to exorcise the state’s second-longest losing streak at 25 game, so players can focus on creating a successful 2007 season.
Former South Tahoe High coach and player Chris Morgan has the Highlanders realizing one of their most successful seasons in the past decade. Incline has won four games in 2006 after winning just 14 games over the past seven seasons. But those wins won’t mean anything come Friday.
“It’s a different Whittell team than last year. You can tell they have a whole new attitude,” Morgan said. “You can see Whittell is getting better every week. They’ve just progressed so far; we have our work cut out for us. That’s why we’re not talking playoffs.”
Incline must defeat the Warriors and ROP must lose to Yerington in order for the Highlanders to qualify for the postseason.
One of the main reasons for Incline’s success has been running back Alex Woods. When healthy, the sophomore has routinely topped the 200-yard rushing barrier and spent substantial time in the end zone. However, a concussion and hip flexor have prevented Woods from having an even bigger year and slowed Incline’s momentum.
“Since he’s been out, we’ve had to make some changes,” Morgan said. “We are beat up, so we just want to get out of there with a victory.”
Morgan commutes daily from South Lake Tahoe to Incline Village after teaching history at South Tahoe High. His commitment to the Highlanders is obvious – not because his Jeep Wrangler needs an oil change before and after the season – but by the fact that he has given the program four years under these circumstances.
The Highlanders have lost four of their past five games, while the Warriors have become one of the state’s most improved teams. Twice in the past three weeks, the Warriors went into the final minutes with a chance at victory, only to be denied.
“They’ve gotten better each week and developed a pretty good week-to-week work ethic,” Summers said. “They know what they have to do day in and day out in order to be competitive on game day.”
Whittell hasn’t beaten Incline since 2002 when Mike Evans was the Warriors’ head coach and Summers’ oldest son, Jake, was a senior.
Friday’s contest will mark the final games for seniors Bryce Rafferty, Nick Spano, Travis Swoger, Curtis Humbird, John Sinclair and Jason Browne.