Vikings welcome challenge of playing 9-0 McQueen
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
All of the statistics say that South Tahoe High can’t possibly win its playoff game at McQueen on Friday night at 7.
McQueen is undefeated at 9-0 and has shut out six of its nine opponents.
Meanwhile, the Vikings bring the worst record at 3-7 into the postseason.
They also became a footnote in state football history last week when they allowed Spanish Springs running back Mike Kanellis to rush for a state record 533 yards. After some recent record-checking by Chuck Hildebrand at Nevprep.com, Kanellis’ rushing total reportedly is the fifth-best in high school football history.
Apparently there is no reason for the Vikings to make the trip to northwest Reno on Friday night, right?
Not so fast.
“I definitely think we can win this game,” said STHS senior quarterback Mikey Van Gorden. “We haven’t played to our potential this year and we could play a lot better than we have all year, which we are definitely going to have to do to beat McQueen.”
South Tahoe didn’t learn of its playoff fate until after a 56-37 loss to Spanish Springs last Thursday. The Vikings only got into the playoffs because Reno rallied to defeat Wooster and Carson lost to Douglas.
“I was real excited, stoked to have another game for my senior year … I can’t wait,” Van Gorden said. “That could have been the seniors’ last game and it’s not good to go out losing by that many points and get run over by Kanellis. I saw it as everybody getting another chance.”
Van Gorden is one reason why the Vikings think they have a chance against the “McQueen Machine,” which has won three of the past seven state championships. He has performed better than any other quarterback in the region, tossing a school-record 26 touchdown passes and passing for more than 2,400 yards. The 6-foot Van Gorden has rushed for another 400 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He really is the class of the league. Not only does he throw but he runs exceptionally well,” said McQueen coach Ken Dalton. “He’s a real competitor and that is what I like best about him.”
Dalton said the Lancers aren’t looking past STHS to a possible semifinal matchup with Joe Sellers’ Bishop Manogue Miners.
“I worry about every week,” Dalton said. “South Tahoe presents problems because we don’t often play teams that pass 40 times a game. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Vikings’ chances at success hinge on giving Van Gorden adequate time to dissect the North’s top defense.
“Their front seven is really good, but I don’t think their secondary has been tested much,” said STHS co-coach Todd McIntyre. “They will come at us with different blitzes and different looks and we will be prepared for it.”
McIntyre has ruled out putting Van Gorden in shotgun formation because he doesn’t want to increase the potential for turnovers.
South Tahoe will protect Van Gorden with an experienced, all-senior line – something that has been missing in some of the Vikings’ previous defeats. Nate Sweeney will start at center, Oscar Moreno and Alex Matzinger at guard and Eric Pacheco and J.P. Foster at tackle.
If the Vikings do crack the Lancers’ vaunted defense, then their chances of winning will come down to tackling. The Vikings have struggled with run defense all season and it was never more evident than last week against Spainsh Springs, which rushed for more than 700 yards.
“We just have to tackle the guy with the ball and we haven’t,” McIntyre said. “We’re going in there with a real basic game plan and hopefully we can play a lot better defense than we have.”
McQueen doesn’t rely on one back and won’t hesitate to use three or four. Their primary sources of real estate are Josh Pritchard, Jacoby Covington and Jamelle Dalton.
It has been several weeks since the Vikings practiced outdoors. Their snow-covered field has kept them in the school’s gym, but Van Gorden said the team is doing its best to simulate the game as it is meant to be played.
“We’ll do hitting drills here and there and get beat up on the floor. You have to do something to get ready for the hits and the games,” he said.
Dalton hasn’t squared off with a STHS team since 2002, but he has followed the Vikings’ ups-and-downs this season.
“I’m very impressed with some of their players. They have great skill kids and they are tough kids,” he said. “They have competed well this year. Even though they haven’t won as many games as they like to, they have been in most every game.”
A win on Friday would make up for a season of would’ve, could’ve and should’ves.