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Warriors open playoffs at Carlin

Anthony Gentile
agentile@tahoedailytribune.com
Whittell linebacker Sean Noyes and lineman Quinn Kixmiller hit each other during a blocking drill at practice on Wednesday. The Warriors will need to play physically to beat Carlin in the Div. IV league playoffs Friday night.
Anthony Gentile / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

DIVISION IV LEAGUE PLAYOFFS

Whittell (9-1) at Carlin (5-4)

Friday, 7 p.m.

For the first time in six seasons, the Whittell football team has the chance to showcase its talent on the postseason stage. The Warriors travel to play Carlin (Nev.) in the NIAA Div. IV league playoffs Friday night at 7 p.m. — and don’t plan on making their postseason experience a short one.

“We’re really excited — we just need to go down there, do our job and we can go far,” Warriors quarterback Colin Buchholz said. “We’re going to have tough games, but I think with the energy we have we can do really well.”

Whittell qualified for the playoffs by finishing second in the Div. IV West League. The Warriors lost a winner-take-all matchup to Virginia City in their season finale, and have to travel more than 300 miles for their postseason opener as a result — the team will leave Zephyr Cove on a school bus at 8:30 a.m., nearly 12 hours ahead of kickoff.

Before last Thursday’s 34-28 loss to Virginia City, Whittell won its first nine games in the regular season. The Warriors’ first loss of the year refocused the team ahead of the postseason.

“We learned our lessons from the last game, we’re going to correct everything we need to and be a better team moving forward,” Warriors linebacker Sean Noyes said. “It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when you’ve been winning too much — it was good for us to realize that anything can happen on any given day.”

Offensively, it’s not a mystery what Carlin plans to do Friday night — the Div. IV East League champions averaged 354 yards rushing per game in the regular season, and more than 90 percent of their snaps were run plays. Running back Julian Mireles leads the Railroaders’ power-based rushing attack, finishing the regular season with 1,237 yards and nine touchdowns — and a 7.6 yards per carry average.

“They’re going to run it hard up the middle and try to tire us down, but we’ve been working hard all year and conditioning — and I don’t think they can take us down,” Noyes said. “In the fourth quarter, they’ll be a lot more tired than we are.”

Carlin attempted passes in only four of its regular season games. The Railroaders haven’t been held below 200 yards on the ground in any contest, and ran for a season-high 723 yards in a loss to league runner-up Eureka (Nev.) on Oct. 17.

“Everybody pretty much understands that Carlin football is smashmouth stuff,” Warriors head coach Phil Bryant said. “They have a big running back, some big linemen and they just get down foot to foot and they’re running it right at you — they don’t care about a high-scoring game, they want to dominate the clock.”

When Whittell has the ball, it will look to re-establish its rushing attack that had a season-low 29 yards on 23 carries last week. The Warriors struggled to run the ball against Virginia City’s physical front — but believe they have made the necessary adjustments to get their ground game back on track with the trio of Corey Huber, Jake Sharp and Max Primo.

“Our blocking scheme and where we were positioning our running backs — we thought we would be able to move the ball with our regular stuff,” Bryant said. “We’ll get back a little further from the line of scrimmage and give the back an opportunity to read the hole — but we’re going to stay pretty much with what we do.”

The Warriors threw a season-high 39 passes against the Muckers, and want to get back to more of the balance they showed in their first nine games. When Buchholz trhows the ball, Whittell’s talented receiving corps of Bryce Bronken (436 yards, nine touchdowns) and Dismas Womack (591, eight) could be in for a big game.

“Now we know what to really practice for — before we weren’t getting low enough on our blocks and we weren’t containing on pass blocking,” Womack said. “(Carlin) has a little bit more of a spread out defense, and their pass defense isn’t as strong as Virginia City.”

Carlin finished in a three-way tie for first place in its four-team league. The Railroaders shared two opponents with Whittell — both teams rolled to victories over Smith Valley, and the Railroaders lost at Virginia City 57-12 on Sept. 13.

“Carlin is big and physical on both sides of the ball — but we think we can do some stuff that will surprise them,” Bryant said. “They haven’t seen our real team.”

Whittell (9-1) faces Carlin (5-4) on Friday night at 7 p.m. — the winner advances to the Div. IV state semifinals next weekend. For the Warriors’ seniors, the game offers a chance to add to their legacies — for the underclassmen, the postseason provides the opportunity to build for the future.

“It shows that with hard work and dedication we can do anything we want to,” Noyes said. “It’s great for our school to see that even with a small school like ours, we can go out and have a chance at the state championship — it’s a beautiful opportunity.”


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