Warriors denied league title, lose to Virginia City 34-28
ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. — In a winner-take-all battle for the Div. IV West League championship Thursday night, the Whittell football team mounted a big comeback — but ultimately came up just short. The Warriors lost to Virginia City 34-28 for their first defeat of the 2014 season.
“They’re a good team, and they were better than us tonight,” Warriors head coach Phil Bryant said. “I’m disappointed for the kids, but there were so many good things that came out of this.”
Whittell (9-1, 5-1 IV West) trailed by two touchdowns at halftime and fell behind 28-6 after the Muckers took the opening drive of the second half for a score. Unable to sustain a running game against Virginia City’s physical front, the Warriors took to the air to mount their comeback.
Four of Whittell’s five plays on its next drive were passes, and all were completions by quarterback Colin Buchholz. His last completion was a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bryce Bronken — after the two-point conversion, the Warriors trailed 28-14 with 7:15 left in the third quarter.
The Warriors forced a turnover on downs on the next possession, then drove 48 yards to make it a one-possession game. Aided by two Muckers’ personal foul penalties on the same play, Whittell scored in three plays — Buchholz found receiver Dismas Womack in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown that made it 28-20 with 4:23 left in the frame.
Bronken intercepted a pass from Muckers quarterback Christian Lindsay near midfield to end the next drive, and Whittell found the end zone for the third straight possession aided by a trick play. Facing fourth-and-7 on their own 46-yard line, the Warriors lined up in punt formation — Buchholz caught the snap, took two steps forward and lofted a short pass to running back Jake Sharp; Sharp took the ball down to the Virginia City 2-yard line.
“We had pre-called that — we decided if we didn’t get the first down on that drive that we were going to run our fake screen,” Bryant said. “They play really soft defense and don’t really try to block it — we thought we could run it, and it was a big play for us.”
Buchholz capped the drive three plays later with a 1-yard sneak with 10:52 left in the fourth quarter. Whittell tied the game on the ensuing two-point conversion — Buchholz scrambled around and lobbed a pass to Bronken, who made a leaping catch to tie the game.
“They handled us, but our guys battled and that’s what we wanted,” Bryant said.
Whittell intercepted a pass near midfield on the next drive — Buchholz snatched the ball out of midair after it took a deflection on a slant route. The Warriors picked up a first down right away and moved the ball to the Virginia City 38-yard line, but a 12-yard loss on a third-down sack forced a punt.
“They figured out something we were doing wrong and picked on us,” Virginia City head coach Ronald Presley said. “It worked — it took us a little while to adjust, but we got it.”
Virginia City (8-1, 6-0) started the next drive from its own 11-yard line, and kept the ball on the ground en route to the game-winning score. Muckers running back Gavin Bailey ran for 37 yards on consecutive carries, then was used as a decoy on a 49-yard touchdown run by back Price Poston that made it 34-28 with 3:48 left.
“When they want to get physical, they can get physical — we were worn down at that point,” Bryant said.
Whittell started the ensuing possession near midfield, but had three straight incomplete passes following a 1-yard loss on first down. On fourth-and-11, Buchholz lofted a pass in the middle of the field that was just beyond the outstretched arm of Womack — Virginia City ran out the final 2:46 to secure the win.
“If the ball is on the other side of Dismas, maybe he catches it and takes it in,” Bryant said.
In the second quarter, Virginia City broke a scoreless with a 38-yard touchdown pass from Lindsay to Ireland Franklin — a quick slant that turned into a score. The Muckers scored on their next two possessions — both of which started in Whittell territory — and had a 21-0 lead with 1:03 left in the half.
The Warriors began the next drive at Virginia City’s 40-yard line, and had second-and-goal from the 3 with 31.7 seconds remaining. Whittell needed four plays, but finally broke through for its first score of the game — a Buchholz 1-yard sneak as time expired that made it 21-6 at the break.
For Whittell, the loss denied a league championship ended a nine-game winning streak to start the season. The Warriors battled back, but ultimately fell short in an emotional defeat.
“They know what it’s like to win, so it means something to them when they lose — that’s an important part of being an athlete,” Bryant said. “There were tears in some guys’ eyes and that’s a good thing — it means they care.”
Virginia City won the league championship for the second time in three seasons — in 2012, the Muckers shared the title with two other teams. Virginia City has compiled an 11-3 record in league play over the last three years.
“It means a lot to us — we’ve been working for this for eight years,” Presley said.
Buchholz went 18-of-31 passing for 171 yards and two touchdowns — he also ran for 18 yards and two scores. Womack had eight catches for 98 yards and a touchdown, and Bronken finished with 46 receiving yards and a score — Whittell’s running backs were limited to 11 yards on 10 carries.
“We have to get better at running the ball against physical teams — our inability to run the ball was the difference in the game,” Bryant said. “They had us scouted really well — they were prepared.”
Virginia City ran for 283 yards in the victory, led by running back Chase Wetherington’s game-high 104 yards on 24 carries. Lindsay was 13-for-21 passing for 167 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Both teams advance to the NIAA Div. IV state playoffs, which begin next weekend. Whittell travels 305 miles to play Carlin (Nev.) (5-4) on Friday night, the top seed from the Div. IV East League — kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We have plenty of time to recover and get back on track — we’ll be fine,” Bryant said. “We’ll come back tough.”