Warriors try to pony up to win column | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Warriors try to pony up to win column

Steve Yingling

Some members of the Whittell High football team have never won a football game. Yet, these Warriors haven’t turned in their gear prematurely. They have learned to deal with adversity as young adults and they painfully know more than any other team in Nevada that winning isn’t everything.

But they have one final shot to mark the win column.

“We definitely want to get one for the seniors and we want to prove ourselves before the season is over,” said Whittell junior quarterback Trent Gordon as the Warriors gun for win No. 1 against Lovelock at 2 p.m. today.

Looking for any edge to exorcise their interminable football tailspin, the Warriors have several things going for them when the playoff-bound Mustangs gallop into Zephyr Cove.

Foremost is their desire to finally crack the win column after suffering 18 straight defeats. They can also draw inspiration from the fact that their followers have never wanted a victory so badly. Moreover, Lovelock (6-2) has already locked up Nevada 3A Division II’s second playoff seed and has very few reasons to show up today. Then there’s the short week: the teams only practiced three days instead of the customary four or five.

“I felt many times throughout the season we were going to win some games. I felt we could have and should have beaten Dayton and Hawthorne,” said Warrior coach John Summers. “They have to play an entire game. That’s what I’ve told them all year long. Sometimes they get happy when we get a first down. That’s fine and dandy, but there’s still more to do than that. They have to go after it and stay after it for the whole game.”

Lovelock coach Joe Yanni, who has been associated with the Mustangs’ program since 1976, has endured his share of losing streaks but none so severe as Whittell’s.

“When you’re winning, you know that little extra you have to give to be able to win, especially when things don’t go right. Sometimes when you’re losing and things don’t go right, it’s easy to let down a little bit,” he said. “We’re dealing with high school kids. The game is an awful lot of mental work.”

Yanni doesn’t mind the abbreviated week of practice or the three-hour bus ride to Zephyr Cove he’ll face this morning. But he is concerned about Whittell’s emotional edge.

“It’s one of those things that can always be scary. You make sure your kids don’t go in overconfident. I know it would make their season to beat a team going to the playoffs. It’s something we can’t overlook,” Yanni said.

Consequently, Yanni’s fear has become the Warriors battle cry this week.

“Our slogan is ‘We are going to win our last game, and we’re going to beat a playoff team,'” Summers said.

Added Gordon, “These guys have a lot of heart, sticking it out. We want to finish the season on a strong note. We just don’t want to fade away.”

Even though Lovelock has generated a special 6-2 season, its wins haven’t been impressive. More often than not, the Mustangs barely win, but they do know how it’s done.

“They don’t appear to be a team to run away with things. Everyone they have beaten they seem to win by a touchdown or less. But when you look at them, they have accomplished quite a bit,” Summers said.

Summers respects what Yanni has accomplished with little material. Lovelock only suits up 16 players – two less than Whittell – and it lost perhaps its best player, running back Benji Robles, six games ago. Robles suffered a broken arm against Quincy, ending his season with 375 rushing yards in less than two games.

“He was on a tear, so I was a bit unsure of what we were going to do,” Yanni said. “Everybody has contributed for us to be where we are right now.”

Picking up the slack has been triple-threat quarterback Michael Nelson. Nelson has rushed for 500 yards and passed for 600 and is adept at running their option offense. Tight end Jeff Santos, who hauled in a 65-yard touchdown catch against Manogue last week, is his favorite receiver. Wide receiver Jaime Gonzalez is also someone the Warriors will have to track, and Brandon Swindlehurst (600 yards) has made the Mustangs’ ground game go in Robles’ absence.

Yanni has compassion for the 18 Warriors who have one final chance to experience a postgame locker room celebration.

“The thing I’ve always told our kids who have been in that situation is it’s fun to play football and to go out and enjoy the game and not worry about the score and not worry about their record. If you keep playing hard, the wins will eventually come,” Yanni said.

And the insensitive jokes and snide remarks will cease.

“We get the usual cracks and jokes. Everyone thinks we play hard, and we still have the support of our friends,” Gordon said. “I’m looking forward to this game, and I think the whole team is.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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