United they stand, together they avenge | SierraSun.com

United they stand, together they avenge

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

Photo by Chuck Smith/Thin Air PhotographySenior team captains (left to right) Kellen Lewis, John Hooper, Ben Tonon and Jorge Vasquez stroll out to midfield for the coin toss before Saturday's State semifinal game in Spring Creek.

The defending state champion Wolverines walked onto the home turf of the No. 1 seeded Spring Creek Spartans Saturday and left no doubt who is the best team in the Northern 3A, routing the previously undefeated Spartans 31-13 in a highly anticipated semifinal showdown.

“I’m excited. I’m ecstatic,” senior linebacker Cory Raber said after the game, immediately following a round of complimentary words by a proud Truckee coaching staff. “I gave it all I’ve got.

“[Spring Creek] got us last time, but we got ’em today.”

Indeed, Raber and company got ’em good, a feat made that much sweeter after a 35-19 self-inflicted loss on Sept. 23 that didn’t sit well with coaches and players. But that game went down before the Wolverines morphed into a unit of hard-hitting animals programmed by head coach Bob Shaffer to punish the opposition until none remained.

“I said the team that hits the hardest is going to be the team that wins …” Shaffer said. “We were more physical than they were.”

Now, only Virgin Valley ” the team to represent southern Nevada after beating visiting Dayton 26-14 last weekend ” stands in the way. If the Wolverines beat Virgin Valley this Saturday at Mackay Stadium in Reno, they will become the first Truckee team to win back to back state titles.

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Before preparing for the big game, however, Truckee players had a chance to savor the moment.

“We stepped up when we had to,” Mike Lopez, a senior halfback who racked up 110 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, said after the game. “We knew it could be our last game and everyone was just fired up.”

By forcing the Spartans to go three and out on the first possession of the game, the Wolverines effectively hushed the mass of purple–and-black-wearing zealots crammed into the Spring Creek bleachers and added fire to an already fired up Truckee sidelines.

More importantly, on the initial stand Truckee’s defense showed the Spartans that the state’s all-time leading rusher, James Edwards, was not going to beat them single-handedly. In the end, according to NevadaPrep.com, Edwards had 146 yards on 34 carries.

Spring Creek’s defense came out strong, too, forcing a well-balanced and potent Truckee offense to also go three and out on its first possession.

Following an incomplete pass and an Edwards’ run for no gain, Spring Creek quarterback KayCee Robinson floated a pass right in the arms of senior linebacker Scott Decker for an interception at the Spartans 30-yard line. Truckee could not capitalize, and turned the ball over on downs in four tries.

Then, what every Truckee player, coach and fan feared most happened. Edwards took a hand-off, hit a pack of linemen and bounced outside and upfield, sprinting down the Spring Creek sidelines and re-igniting the home crowd before returning all-league safety John Hooper ran him down at the Truckee 32-yard line. Eight plays later the Spartans found the end zone on a pass from five yards out. After a successful extra point, Truckee trailed 7-0.

On the next possession the Wolverines picked up a quick first down ” their first of the game ” on runs of 6 and 5 yards by seniors Mike Lopez and Ben Tonon. But momentum was halted the next play when Truckee quarterback Robert Jones lofted a pass intended for Alfredo Oropeza that sailed over his head and into the hands of a Spring Creek defender for an interception at the Spartan 30-yard line.

In forcing the Spartans to punt four plays after the interception, Truckee’s defense seemed to receive a spark when returning all-league defensive tackle Jorge Vasquez laid a resounding pop on Edwards for a loss.

To start the second quarter Truckee put together an 80-yard drive, highlighted by a shifty 38-yard run by Lopez to the Spring Creek 4-yard line, and topped off with a short touchdown run by sophomore fullback Drew Stewart. Senior linebacker Matt Klesken kicked the extra point to even the score at 7.

Truckee forced a Spring Creek punt and began another drive, using a combination of Lopez, Stewart and senior wingback Ben Tonon to keep the Spartan defense off balance. On third-and-6 from about the Spring Creek 25-yard line Jones threw a perfectly placed pass to Tonon, who leaped above three defenders and brought the ball down at the 9-yard line. On first-and-goal at the 9, Stewart took the hand-off and lumbered toward the corner of the end zone, where a Spring Creek defender awaited at the goal line. Spotting the obstacle, Stewart lowered his shoulder and delivered a forceful blow, leveling the tackler and falling forward into the end zone.

Klesken took care of the extra point to give Truckee a 14-0 lead with three minutes remaining before the half.

On the second play of Spring Creek’s ensuing drive Robinson threw another pass that floated, this time into the arms of sophomore defensive back Kevin Sahlberg, who used every bit of his speed to snag the pass over his shoulder at the Spring Creek 37.

Unable to get in the end zone, Klesken booted a field goal from 15 yards out to extend Truckee’s lead to 17-7 entering halftime.

The Spartans ” encouraged by a boisterous crowd undoubtedly sensing urgency ” held the Wolverines to consecutive punts, then put together a length-of-the-field drive that ended when Edwards jumped over the line for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked to put the score at 17-13, Truckee.

The Wolverines got the ball back late in the third quarter and proceeded to eat up nearly eight minutes of the clock with a slow, marching drive, again using a combination of runs from Lopez, Stewart and Tonon and clutch passes from Jones. On fourth-and-goal at the Spring Creek 1-yard line, with 9:21 remaining in the game, Tonon took the hand-off and beat Spartan defenders to the far corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Klesken’s extra point split the uprights, bringing the score to 24-13.

Truckee’s defense continued to swarm and gang up on Edwards, and on fourth-and-8 at about the Truckee 35-yard line, senior defensive end Kyle Steverman bounded onto the back of Robinson for a sack and turnover on downs.

The exclamation point came one play later, when Lopez darted up the middle, broke a tackle, shook another defender off his leg and cruised in for a touchdown. With the extra point, the Wolverines took a 31-13 lead with five minutes to go.

About that time, the dedicated pack of Wolverines fans began chanting, “It’s all over,” and “state, state, state.”

Sophomore linebacker Paris Tenorio and Vasquez added a couple crushing hits on Spring Creek’s final possession as the clock wound down.