Whittell football faces Carlin in state playoff opener, hosts first playoff game since 1991
Two days before its Div. IV state playoff opener, the Whittell football team took to its field with shovels to remove the snow still left from the first storm of winter. But the Warriors didn’t mind the extra work while preparing to host their first postseason game in 24 years.
“We’re doing the work to get the field ready,” Warriors coach Phil Bryant said. “We’re really proud to be having a home game, and if it means we have to get the field ready we’ll get the field ready.”
Whittell (9-0) hosts Carlin (Nev.) (9-1) on Friday, Nov. 7, in the league playoffs round of the Div. IV State playoffs — kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. For the Warriors, it marks their second straight state appearance and will be their first home playoff game since 1991.
“Our fans are going to be excited, everyone is going to be here and it’s going to be a good game,” Warriors senior Colin Buchholz said. “I’m glad it’s here. It’s huge for our team, our fans, our community — it’s great for everyone.”
The Warriors finished the regular season undefeated en route to the Div. IV West League crown, one the few teams in program history to accomplish that feat. The last time that happened came in 1991, when Whittell made it all the way to the Div. 2A state championship led by future NFL player Mike Crawford.
Whittell’s ultimate goal is the Div. IV state championship, which would be the third title in program history; the previous two came in 1988 and 1969. Friday night, the Warriors can do something that no prior team has accomplished — reach double-digit wins in a season.
“This season has been amazing,” Warriors senior Quinn Kixmiller said. “Being with the same kids for this long is amazing and the kids really make it feel more like a family than a team.”
The Warriors’ postseason opener will be characterized by familiarity. Whittell lost to Carlin in the first round of the state playoffs last season 34-30 on the road, and is counting on a change in scenery to settle the score with the Railroaders.
“We still remember what they did in the back of our minds, but that was last year,” Buchholz said. “We’re in a good position, but we can’t lose it like we did last year.”
When Whittell takes the field against Carlin on Friday night, it will be as if the Warriors are playing themselves. The Railroaders have similar size team speed as Whittell, making the playoff contest an evenly matched one.
“They’re much quicker than they were last year and not as big,” Bryant said. “Their running back is about the same size as Corey and he’s real quick, their defense is really aggressive and they fly to the ball as well as anybody we’ve played all year.”
Whittell’s offense averaged 60 points per game during the regular season quarterbacked by Buchholz. The senior has thrown for 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 217 yards and eight scores on the ground while leading the Warriors’ offense.
Offensively the Warriors are loaded with weapons, including leading rusher Corey Huber — the sophomore has run for 1,331 yards and 19 touchdowns. Dismas Womack is a threat on the ground and in the air, while Palmer Chaplin offers a vertical threat.
“We’re going to throw it as much as we normally throw it and we’re going to run it as much as we normally run it,” Bryant said. “There aren’t going to be any surprises — we’re going to do what we did that got us here.”
Carlin runs a 3-3 defensively, and uses its speed to create problems for opposing offenses. On the outside, the Railroaders play off opposing receivers in an effort to limit big plays.
“We’re going to have to establish our run game because it’s going to be cold,” Buchholz said. “Our run game is going to have to be huge.”
When the Railroaders have the ball, they’ll look to move it primarily on the ground — Carlin ran it on 79 percent of its snaps during the regular season. Saul Armendariz powers Carlin on the ground, and has run for 1,295 yards and 15 touchdowns this year; Javas Leach and Anthony Williams share its quarterback duties.
“We have to be ready for quick pitches, traps and runs — but also be aware of the pass,” Kixmiller said.
Whittell’s defense hasn’t allowed more than three touchdowns in any game this season, and has been stout the entire season. The Warriors enter the postseason allowing six points per game — including five shutouts.
“It’s just going to be us doing our jobs,” Buchholz said. “They’re really quick, but if everyone is in where they’re supposed to be they won’t be able to do much.”
Temperatures at kickoff are expected to be in the mid-30s, the coldest contest for either team this season. Snow isn’t expected to be in the forecast, but Whittell wouldn’t mind even if it were.
“It won’t change a thing,” Bryant said. “The kids live in the snow, they ski, they play in the snow and they drive in the snow.”
The league playoffs round features three other matchups Friday. In the North, East League champion Eureka (Nev.) (8-0) hosts West League runner-up Virginia City (Nev.) (7-2) at 7 p.m.
The Southern matchups feature top seed and seven-time defending champion Pahranagat Valley (Alamo, Nev.) (9-0) against Beatty (Nev.) (4-5) at 7 p.m. and second-seeded Spring Mountain (Las Vegas) (7-2) hosting Tonopah (Nev.) (7-2) at 1 p.m. The state semifinals are scheduled for Nov. 13-14 with the state championship set for Nov. 21 at a Northern Nevada site.
“The ultimate goal is winning state,” Buchholz said. “It doesn’t matter who we play or where we go, we just want to get to the championship and be very successful with what we do.”
Whittell’s first step toward that goal starts Friday night.