Whittell gridders host Sierra Lutheran Thursday night with playoffs in the balance | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Whittell gridders host Sierra Lutheran Thursday night with playoffs in the balance

Whittell senior Gunnar Barnwell (14) will play in his first game of the season Thursday against Sierra Lutheran.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

ZEPHYR COVE, Nev. — Whittell head football coach Doug Patton was explaining Tuesday evening what his Warriors must do to qualify for postseason.

Whittell hosts Sierra Lutheran at 7 p.m. Thursday in its season finale and it’s the biggest game of the season for both teams.

A win for Whittell doesn’t guarantee playoff berth. A victory would forge a three-way tie for second place with Sierra Lutheran and Excel Christian, the last postseason qualifying position.

So Patton, in answering a question, went into tiebreaker scenarios that included point differential, wins, head-to-head, defensive points allowed, but then he erased that mental chalkboard.

“The bottom line is we have to beat Sierra Lutheran, and beat them by a couple of touchdowns,” Patton said.

There will be a lot of different emotions Thursday night. It’s a short practice week heading into a must-win game with added pressure to prevail by a couple of scores. There will be a senior night celebration. The season could end and it might be the final time those seniors wear a helmet and pads.

“The kids, they know this very well could be their last game,” Patton said.

“We’re fired up completely,” said Whittell senior Alexis Gonzales. “We’ve only had three days to prepare. Right now, we’re all just trying to get our heads straight. We have to beat them and beat them by a couple of touchdowns.”

The Warriors were loose during practice Tuesday night, enjoying their time together. The team has been through a lot this season with injuries, some devastating and season-ending, but they have stuck together through thick and thin. To be in the hunt for postseason is an accomplishment on its own.

“There’s a new dynamic this year, our chemistry has been better than in the past,” said senior Isaiah Womack. “Everybody really gets along with each other. Regardless of how the season goes, we’re all pretty happy with what we’ve done and the success we’ve had.”

While the Warriors lost lineman DC Nelson to injury last week in a non-league 63-42 win over The Meadows School from Las Vegas, first-team all-league senior defensive end/linebacker Gunnar Barnwell has become eligible and will play his first, and hopefully not only, game of the season.

“When you get the defensive player of the year back in a game like this when its crucial, it’s pretty awesome,” Womack said.

“I pray for the kid who Gunnar first comes in contact with,” Patton said. “He’s so hungry to get on the field. It allows us to play other people in their natural positions, like Isaiah, he’s playing cornerback for the first time this season.”

“I’m back at my original position,” Womack said. “I played cornerback my freshman and sophomore years and didn’t play defense at all last year.”

Whittell will have its hands full with the Falcons who have had similar results when facing the same opponents. One big difference is Whittell lost to Excel Christian (2-2 1A 8-man Northern League) while Sierra Lutheran won 35-28.

But the Warriors also beat non-league foes Mineral County (60-56) and Smith Valley (60-24) while the Falcons lost to both, 46-37 and 46-41, respectively.

“Sierra Lutheran, they’re not small guys,” Gonzales said. “They are big and they’ve got the same record as us (4-4 overall). It’s an even field right now. But I have confidence our team can do it because we’ve prepared for it.”

It’s also interesting how well the game will be attended. The entire school district is finishing up a week-long vacation and students and fans may be away from the basin. The game is also being played on a Thursday night rather than Friday.

“I think we should have quite a few people here,” Gonzales said. “It’s senior night, it’s a home game, and when it’s a home game, the last time a lot of people showed up. But who knows, maybe a little less with all the people on vacation.”

The season may not end Thursday night, and Womack is hoping it doesn’t, but he has been thinking about it.

“It’s tough thinking about it, especially tomorrow may be my last practice,” Womack said. “This could be the last of this, it’s my senior year, the last of everything. It’s hitting me hard. When that final horn goes it will be tough.”

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