Whittell battles Incline for final playoff berth | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Whittell battles Incline for final playoff berth

April Heath/Tahoe TribuneAlex Swearingen, pictured in this file photo running against Independence High School, returns to the Warrior lineup to play Incline on Saturday.

Take one of the longest standing rivalries in Tahoe, add new head coaches on both teams, and make it worth the fourth and final 2A Northern Region playoff berth, and you have the making for one powerful pigskin confrontation.

That’s precisely the case this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when the Incline Highlanders travel to Whittell to battle the Warriors.

“It’s a must win or that’s it,” said senior Jake Summers, who’s played football all four years at Whittell. “Most of the seniors are pretty excited about it. We’re ready to play it.”

So is Incline who, like Whittell, has gone from powder puff in 2001 to powder keg in 2002.

Under first-year Highlander coach Mike Dulisse, Incline is 2-3 after a 1-8 season last year, beating only the winless Whittell Warriors.

Whittell, under first-year Warrior coach Mike Evans, is 1-4 in league after a 0-9 season in 2001.

Both teams have their eye on the playoffs, but Incline has the league advantage. The Highlanders beat Hawthorne this year by a large margin. If they defeat Whittell or lose by less than 11 points, they make the playoffs.

Whittell has to win by 11 points to make the playoff to make up for a disappointing 14-6 loss to Hawthorne.

The Warriors say it was a fluke, but they now must prove it by overcoming their biggest lake rival.

Whittell, however, has the man-to-man edge heading into Saturday’s game.

The Warriors have returning starters Alex Swearingen and Chris Anton back at running back. Casey Canto, the Warriors’ 210-pound lineman-come-running back, will likely move to right tackle.

The Highlanders recently lost senior running back Nick Bartholomew due to a concussion suffered against Lovelock. He isn’t expected to return.

The Warriors will return most of their players to their original positions, minus Tommy Esquivel, who is out sick. Brian Jones will likely play cornerback and Parker Fox and Swearingen will play linebacker.

The rivalry between the two schools runs deep. It’s caused Whittell to be “toilet papered” and Incline to be “egged.” Fights have occurred, and on one notable occasion last winter, fans were barred from attending a basketball game because a student brought a gun to school.

The rivalry is less important to Evans and Dulisse.

New to each program, the two coaches have much in common.

“He’s kind of in the same boat that I am with taking over Whittell,” said Dulisse, given that the two programs were struggling the year before.

Dulisse said both coaches adopt the philosophy so clearly prevalent at Bishop Manogue and McQueen high schools of playing sound fundamental football and being prepared.

“His players are always ready to play football,” Dulisse said. “In my opinion Evans should have some recognition as coach of the year.”

Both programs are also numerically challenged, with strong soccer programs in the fall as well.

Both teams use multiple formations on offense and defense, though Evans has a strong affinity for the “Wing-T” formation to favor a running game.

Dulisse likes to spread out the offense.

“I throw the ball more,” Dulisse said. “I love throwing the football, getting out in the open, creating plays and scoring quickly.”

Evans’ game could be described as more conservative.

“We like to stay basic and run the Wing T,” Evans said.

That doesn’t keep Nick Lowe from racking up over 100 yards in the air, which he’s done three of his last four games.

Jones also logged eight catches in three quarters against the Night Hawks for 87 yards and one touchdown.

By far the biggest similarity is the desire to win.

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