Warriors look to play spoilers in season finale at Lovelock
While Whittell’s football team can finish no higher than fourth in the league they’re not missing the playoffs – their playoffs anyway.
No matter what happens in Thursday’s football season finale at Lovelock – Whittell’s last game in 3A – Whittell can’t make the playoffs. So Whittell is making Thursday night’s showdown its own postseason.
“Our kids are kind of looking at this game as our playoff game here,” said Whittell head coach John Summers, who has led the Warriors to a 2-5 overall record (2-3 in Northern Nevada 3A Division II) in their last season before the school drops to 2A status.
“We have progressed,” he said. “We have improved in many areas here – not (as much) in some areas I would have liked for them to.”
Lovelock will provide Whittell with a test to see just how far its team has come. Whittell defeated Incline earlier this season and added a 46-14 homecoming rout of visiting Hawthorne on Saturday for its first two wins since 1996. The Mustangs, hosts of Thursday’s game, should present stouter competition. Lovelock’s 5-2 overall record and 4-1 league mark are similar to the team’s numbers last year, and with good reasons: the 1999 Mustangs are the same model as the 1998s.
“Just from looking at their stats, it looks like they’re just doing the same things: running the heck out of the ball and not throwing much,” Summers said.
Lovelock returns eight key players from the 6-4 squad that advanced to the first round of the state playoffs last year, where the Mustangs lost to Moapa. Lovelock is on a similar track this year, and can qualify for the playoffs if unbeaten Bishop Manogue beats Dayton this week. The only losses have come 48-14 against Manogue and 15-14, in the season opener against Quincy, when a two-point conversion try fell short after a late Lovelock touchdown.
“We thought we had a really good chance to be right here and we’re playing well throughout the year, and hopefully, everything turns out that way,” said Lovelock head coach Joe Yanni.
Among the returning players are brothers Robert and David Robles, bringing a combined 570 pounds to the offensive and defensive lines. They join veterans Richard Vasquez and Jose Garcia on an experienced line. The line paves the way for the rushing attack of tailback Benje Robles (a cousin of the two linemen, who has run for 1,300 yards this season, including a season-low 99 rushing yards in the loss to Manogue) and quarterback Brandon Swindlehurst.
“Fortunately for us, the option they run is something we practiced quite a bit when we were getting ready for Hawthorne,” Summers said. “Hawthorne didn’t run it well. Lovelock will.”
Whittell can’t count on the Mustangs handing them gifts like Hawthorne’s Serpents did on homecoming. Four first-half Serpents turnovers were a big reason Whittell raced out to a 38-0 lead by halftime. To be competitive against the Mustangs, Whittell will have to stuff the run while protecting against big plays, making the play of linebackers Joel Warnick and Alex Swearingen – a freshman who played well against Hawthorne on Saturday – especially important. Summers will count on Richard Fore and Matt Wiggins at defensive end, to apply pressure without losing containment.
“Our linebackers, we’ve kind of (cut) down their responsibilities, giving them a couple of things to look for instead of them trying to do everything,” Summers said.
While Whittell has been balanced on offense, Summers would like to see his Warriors sustain more drives. Big plays have provided Whittell with many of its points – and most of the 440 yards Whittell racked up last week – but the Warriors haven’t kept opposing defenses on the field. Lovelock fields both four-man and five-man fronts to contain the run.
“It just depends on the team we play,” Yanni said.
Whittell’s offense presents problems for opponents. Instead of a more-traditional smash-mouth running, Whittell has two backs who can generate offense: Wiggins can run between the tackles, while Chauncey Lane is a breakaway threat on the perimeter. The Warriors also have run the option with senior quarterback Trent Gordon, and have used Gordon’s favorite target, Luke Forvilly, as a running back. Forvilly joins fellow wideout Fore and tight end Jacob Corners in a receivers corps that creates difficult matchups for defensive backs.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who can match up with these receivers,” Summers said.
Yanni knows the names, and scouted the players earlier this season.
“We know Forvilly is doing really well,” Yanni said. “They’re an awful lot improved from last year.”
To suggest Whittell would have a shot at spoiling Lovelock’s playoff hopes might have raised eyebrows when the Warriors started practice with just eight players. But Whittell silenced its critics with two big wins, and Summers considers the task at hand “doable.”
“I think it is, but they all have to play well, they all have to play well for the entire game,” he said. “That’s our big challenge here, to beat someone that’s better than us.”
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