Vikings ready for Wooster challenge |

Vikings ready for Wooster challenge

Steve Yingling

As far as high school football rivalries go, the Wooster-South Tahoe matchup compares to the annual Penn State-Temple massacre.

The Colts have dominated the 15-year series as if they were Caped Crusaders, Batman and Robin, thwarting the Joker and the Penguin. Or the Harlem Globetrotters toying with the Washington Generals.

South Tahoe has only beaten the Colts once – in the 1991 zone championship game. Prior to that breakthrough game and ensuing contests, the Colts haven’t sweated the Vikings on their schedule.

But that all changed last November in the first round of the zone playoffs. Heavily favored Wooster, at the time a two-time defending state champion, needed a special teams touchdown to break a scoreless tie to start the third quarter. Although, the Colts eventually escaped with a 13-0 victory, a young-and-talented Viking squad knew the near-win was the beginning of something special.

Now, three weeks deep into the 1997 season, the unbeaten Vikings (3-0) are poised to show the Colts that they are no longer their whipping boys.

“We’re looking forward to playing them. We’re not backing down. This probably is the biggest game of our lives,” said Viking senior defensive back Jason Bergman. “There’s more of a tradition at Wooster. I know the tradition, so that will make me work harder to go against something big like that.”

Others, like sophomore linebacker Sam Faavesi, will learn on the field how important of a hurdle it is for the Viking program.

“I have no idea about the Wooster tradition. My first scrimmage in my whole life was against Wooster,” Faavesi said.

Ah, the scrimmage. For inspiration, the Vikings need only look back to the 90-minute preseason struggle with the Colts. Wooster dominated at the outset, but the Vikings finished strong.

“I don’t think we lost that scrimmage. We started off lousy and got better and better. It starts in practice, really. If we come out and have a good week in practice, I feel we can beat them,” Bergman said.

Examining the scrimmage closer, the more diverse-attacking Vikings only ran their base plays while Wooster revealed their customary four- or five-play playbook.

“We didn’t show them much at all at the scrimmage,” Uppendahl told Tribune sportswriter Michael Traum following the Vikings’ 31-22 triumph over Reno on Saturday. “We just did our base plays, no trick plays or trick formations.”

Making matters more difficult than usual for the Vikings this Saturday is Wooster’s current 1-2 record. You have to go all the way back to Joe Sellers’ first season with the Colts, 1976, to find a similar start.

“We won five games that year and finished second in our league. Back then, we played a lot of California teams like Clovis, Monterey and Merced. We had a pretty good schedule,” Sellers said.

“But our record now doesn’t mean anything. It’s our division games that the playoffs are based upon.”

Sellers is right. Their game with the Vikings starts a new season of sorts. It’s the first division game for the Colts and the second for the Vikings. And with the Northern Nevada League expanding to an eight-team playoffs, the Colts shouldn’t be that worried.

But they are. For once, the Vikings are putting the fear into Sellers. Primarily because of senior quarterback Bret Uppendahl, the Vikings’ offensive coordinator on the field, who has been given substantial time to operate behind the line of scrimmage.

“Offensively, they can hurt you rushing and passing. We are going to try and slow them down and hopefully we can match up a little bit,” Sellers said. “We have different packages for them, but (Uppendahl) is so good, if he sees something, he can do whatever he wants on the line. He can run it all on the line of scrimmage.”

In past seasons, some of Viking teams probably lost to Wooster before even stepping onto the field. That won’t happen on Saturday.

“We’ll be real fired up. I can’t wait until next weekend. It will be the funnest game of our lives, the biggest game of our lives,” Uppendahl said.

Once they beat Wooster, the Vikings will know that they can beat anybody.

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