Friday night football fight: Truckee at Lowry
Sierra Sun sports editor
In terms of leadership and program stability, Lowry head football coach Chris Ward considers the Truckee Wolverines lucky.
More specifically, he thinks the players are lucky because of the man who steers the program. That would be Truckee head coach Bob Shaffer, who has engineered the Wolverines to 80 wins and three 3A state championships in eight-plus seasons.
“Truckee is very lucky to have Shaffer,” Ward said. “I enjoy sitting down and talking football with him. He’s a class act, but I’d really like to beat him.”
Beating Shaffer’s Wolverines is something Ward has not accomplished in four previous seasons as the Lowry head coach, but he has come close in the last two meetings.
In the 2002 3A Northern League Playoffs, Lowry dropped an overtime game, 26-20, at Truckee in a wet snowstorm, and, last year, Truckee quarterback Paul Tierney capped a 75-yard game-winning drive with a touchdown pass to Jamie Maehler with just over one minute left on the clock to win 21-17.
The Wolverines may be lucky to have a competent commander in Shaffer, but Truckee’s current 4-0 Northern 3A record is anything but lucky ” the Wolverines have steamrolled the Northern 3A and have not come close to losing a league game. Lowry, on the other hand, is 5-2 overall, but it has dropped league games to Fernley and Dayton.
“The two we lost, we gave away,” said Ward, who has seen his roster dip to a less-than-average 25 players in 2004. Ward also added that injuries have compounded problems, especially an ankle injury to starting quarterback Tyler Crnkovich. Lowry’s personnel situation is a stark contrast from a Truckee team that has about 50 players.
The keys to the Wolverines’ domination this season has been its pesky defense (8 interceptions, one fumble recovery) and solid kicking game (3 FGs of more than 35 yards, 28 PATS), but mostly because of an offense that features seven players with at least two touchdowns. Even more frustrating for opposing defenses, Truckee’s strength is not just on one side of the ball.
The Wolverines have rushed the ball 202 times and passed the ball 106 times, but the surplus of runs have come in the second half with Truckee holding large leads. The ability to spread the ball around with such efficiency is rare on the high school level, but preparing for it is nothing new to Ward.
“(It’s) not (rare) for Truckee,” Ward said. “Maybe not as much (diversity) as this season, but balance has always been their strength.”
So how do Ward and his Buckaroos prepare for a Truckee assault that has 18 touchdowns on the ground and 14 through the air? Ward said he aims to make them one-dimensional.
“We’re going to try to make them beat us through the air,” Ward said. “If we can control the run, we can concentrate on one thing. They are known for their passing, but they can still run the ball well.”
Ward’s philosophy sounds dangerous when you consider Tierney, last year’s Greater Nevada passing leader, has only thrown two interceptions this season and completed more than 70 percent of his passes. But Ward thinks if Lowry can force Truckee into a high-stress passing situation, Tierney may be prone to make a mistake.
“We play a pressure defense, and we want to try to get to the quarterback so he doesn’t have a lot of time to throw,” Ward said.
Lowry’s 5-3 defense plays bump man-to-man coverage in the secondary that is vulnerable to the big play, but it also is more physical at the line than the typical high school zone defense.
“It’s hard for the receivers to run routes when they can’t get off the line of scrimmage,” Ward said. “We give up big plays, but so do a lot of teams that run zone.”
On Shaffer’s end, an early-season snowstorm that dumped 18 inches of snow in Truckee this week has hampered Truckee’s four-day window of preparation.
“It’s different,” Shaffer said. “The kids aren’t as focused because they’re out in the snow for the first time (this season). What makes it kind of bad is there’s about one to two inches of water under the snow, so their shoes get really wet. It’s just hard to move. You can’t go full speed because they’re slipping and falling.”
Because Truckee hasn’t been able to practice with its usual vigor, Shaffer is calling the Lowry game “assignment football.” That’s because the blocking assignments are different for the offensive lineman against a five-man front, the strategy of running routes is different for Truckee receivers against the bump coverage and the Truckee defense has to deal with Lowry’s unique dive-option offense.
“They’re just little things you have to adapt to,” Shaffer said. “They’re not things you practice against on a regular basis.”
Despite Lowry’s losses against Fernley and Dayton ” teams that Truckee has walloped by a combined score of 95-21 ” Shaffer is not looking past the Buckaroos on Friday night.
“I live by the old adage that you have to play one game at a time,” Shaffer said. “You have to beat this team and move on to the next one. It’s kind of like what happened last week when Manogue lost to Galena (by a score of 9-7. Galena went into the game 0-7 and snapped Manogue’s 30-game winning streak.) Manogue was already getting ready for McQueen and overlooked Galena.”
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