Wolverines sink Pirates to reach state championship game
TRUCKEE, Calif. — The Truckee football team punched their ticket to the Class 3A state championship game, dominating Moapa Valley in Saturday’s semifinals on the way to a 35-7 victory.
With a light snow falling at times and a raucous home crowd behind them, the Wolverines knocked off the defending state champion Pirates and ended the program’s 26-game winning streak.
“To put a running clock on a team like that with a 26-game win streak, it’s something super special to us,” said senior safety Reed Loper.
Before the teams could take the field for the first Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association state semifinal matchup at Surprise Stadium in a decade, parents and volunteers spent several hours and a couple days clearing the gridiron of snow. The resulting work created a snow-rimmed bowl around the field and one best atmosphere’s seen at Surprise Stadium as fans from both programs packed the stands.
Truckee sophomore Joe Birnbaum immediately brought the Wolverines faithful to their feet, returning the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a bobbled kick return,” said Birnbaum. “I thought my teammate was going to get it but he lost it in the sun, so I picked it up. Just on the fly I had to read the blocking, and hit the hole as fast as I could.”
Truckee added to their lead in the second quarter when junior Luke Trotter caught a screen pass and broke several tackles on the way to a 14-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, Moapa Valley looked to connect on a short pass, but the ball went through the receiver’s hands and into the arms of Loper, who returned it for another Truckee touchdown.
“All I saw was it tip off his hands and I knew I had it,” said Loper. “I had to take it.”
Moapa Valley opened the second half with a solid drive, moving inside the Truckee 30-yard line, but would ultimately turn the ball over on downs as the Truckee defense swarmed to bring down the Pirates’ quarterback on fourth and long.
Birnbaum would again make the Pirates pay on the following possession. The defending 110-meter hurdles state champion caught a short pass, and then ran away from the Moapa Valley defense for a 70-yard touchdown.
“It kind of put them in the ground and solidified our win,” said Birnbaum. “It was a really rewarding touchdown.”
Moapa Valley then fumbled away the ball on their next possession, and again Truckee capitalized, scoring a couple plays later on a 55-yard pass to senior Dylan Sumner. The extra point by senior Matthew Tanner gave the Wolverines a 35-0 lead and started a running clock late in the third quarter.
“We play together. We fight together,” said Sumner, who led the team with three receptions for 80 yards. “We just do everything as one — as a family.”
Moapa Valley got on the board in the fourth quarter, scoring from the 9-yard line on a fourth-and-3 run by senior running back Landon Wrzesinski.
The Pirates threatened to add another touchdown at the end of the game but senior defensive back Colton Knotts knocked the ball down to preserve a 35-7 victory for Truckee.
“(Moapa Valley is) a very good team,” said Head Coach Josh Ivens. “Coach (Brent) Lewis is a class act. He runs a very tight ship down there and to be able to win a game here at home against an opponent like that is something our kids will never forget. I’m proud of them.”
Senior quarterback Julian Hall connected on 7 of 11 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Miles Kelly-Caruthers had a team-high 27 rushing yards.
Defensively, senior Julian Magana led the team with 11 tackles. Kelly-Caruthers and senior Donivan Lopez each had 10 tackles. Senior Kade Krautstrunk and junior Rylan Lopez each recorded a sack. Senior Jake Doughty caused a fumble. Senior Wyatt Wichert and junior Fabian Cerda both recovered a fumble.
For Ivens and the program, a trip to next week’s state championship game in Las Vegas began more than a year ago following the team’s season-ending, 35-34 loss to Fernley in the playoffs.
“We lost to Fernley on that last play and I came back in on Monday and this group was locked in and ready to go,” said Ivens. “Hats off to them. Since last November they’ve grinded in the weight room. They’ve put in the work to get to this point, but they’ve also earned it on the field.”
The Class 3A State Championship game is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 21, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Truckee (10-1, 5-0 Northern – West League) will take on Sports Leadership and Management (8-3, 4-0 Southern – Mountain League). The Bulls topped Spring Creek 39-8 in Saturday’s semifinal game at Las Vegas High School.
Kickoff time for the game has yet to be set.
Truckee last reached the state championship game in 2018, and last won the title in 2012.
“All the hard work that we put in since last winter, last spring it’s all paying off now,” said Loper.
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