Like foes will look in mirror at 3A state championship game
Sierra Sun sports editor
The irony in this year’s 3A Nevada state football championship is that in order to win its fourth in nine years, Truckee will theoretically have to beat itself, otherwise known as the Moapa Valley Pirates.
“On offense and defense, both teams are predicated on athleticism and speed more than bulk in the trenches,” said Truckee head coach Bob Shaffer, who will go for his fourth championship since taking over the Wolverines in 1995. “There are a lot of similarities between the teams.”
The many ways the two long-successful programs mirror each other in strategy and personnel demonstrate why they have been above and beyond the competition in 2004. Not only because Moapa Valley ” which Truckee last played in the 2001 3A championship and defeated 14-7 ” has had a parallel season in terms of brutalizing its competition, but because both teams are very similar in the way they unmercifully attack opposing defenses and smother opposing offenses.
“On paper, it looks pretty even, but will be interesting to see how it plays out,” said three-year Moapa head coach Brent Lewis, who was the Pirates’ offensive coordinator in the 2001 matchup. “Truckee has the ability to score but also to stop the other team.”
And so does Moapa, and that’s why Lewis knows his team’s quest for its 14th state championship will be “interesting” in that the final score may be closer than the 2001 game. On paper, that is.
“I would be very surprised if there was a large differential in the score,” Shaffer said. “Those little things ” like turnovers and field position ” are going to be larger than life. Which way is the ball going to bounce?”
A closely-fought battle can be expected when two teams come together that are so alike. In fact, the similarities between the programs are striking, starting with the results against like opponents.
Both teams are coming off decisive shutouts in the state semifinals. Moapa contained Spring Creek’s James Edwards ” the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) career rushing leader who had nearly 3,000 yards rushing this season ” by limiting the junior to 118 yards on 35 carries in a 31-0 win. But when the game mattered most in the first half, Edwards struggled through 15 carries for 30 yards.
“They were fairly one-dimensional,” Lewis said. “If you’re going to run the ball on us, you have to block pretty well.”-
When Spring Creek visited Truckee in the regular season on Sept. 25, the result was similar ” a 35-6 Truckee win. More importantly, the Truckee defense responded to some early-season criticism and answered the “Edwards Challenge” (consider the fact that Edwards was not held under 100 yards in any game this season). Edwards gained more than 160 yards on the ground against the Wolverines, but, on 37 carries, his longest run was 40 yards, and he never saw the end zone.
If there were negative questions about Truckee’s defense at any point, the only question now is: Can Moapa infiltrate a defense that has given up three points in as many games and has four shutouts this season? Moapa has three shutouts of its own this season.
Besides Spring Creek, the only other like opponent the two teams have played is Virgin Valley. In the regular season finale, Moapa thrashed the Bulldogs 38-0 to win the Southern 3A title. Truckee is coming off a 42-0 shutout of the Bulldogs in the semifinals.
The overall scoring averages tell the story as well: Moapa’s offense has averaged 37 points per game while Truckee’s has averaged 44.3. Moapa’s defense has given up an average of 11.5 points per game while Truckee’s has averaged 9.2.
The synopsis of both teams’ seasons is a series of lopsided wins with one loss that blemished an otherwise dominant season. Moapa, now 11-1 on the season, lost in Week 3 to a Utah high school called Dixie (St. George), 26-10. Lewis called the loss “humbling” at the time, but Moapa turned the ball over six times in the game.
The Wolverines own a 9-1 record and have reeled off consecutive wins since losing at 4A Hug, 34-21, to open the season.
Thus, no one could argue there are any flukes in this year’s state championship. It was as if these teams were headed on a collision course all along, especially when they started their respective league schedules. Truckee annihilated its six Northern 3A opponents and Boulder City did likewise against four Southern 3A foes.
The resemblance in strategy and personnel on offense is apparent as well. Each team’s success revolves around a smart, efficient senior quarterback, and the rest funnels down from there. For Truckee, it’s Paul Tierney, who has completed 71 percent of his passes and has thrown just two interceptions.
Jeff Bowler is to Moapa what Tierney is to Truckee. Bowler may have been fifth in Greater Nevada in regular season passing yardage with 1,269, but he was second only to Tierney in efficiency by completing 84-of-104 passes (60 percent). Bowler has completed passes to eight different players this season.
“He’s a really good leader,” Lewis said. “He’s the kind of kid that is eager to make plays. He always wants to throw the ball down the field more. If you talk to the other coaches around the league, they’ll say his footwork’s not perfect, but he manages to put the ball where it needs to be.”
Putting the ball where it needs to be is an art Tierney has perfected. He has completed a pass to 10 different receivers this year, and the passing game is one area that Lewis is concentrating on because, compared to his rush defense, the pass defense is slightly untested.
“If you look at the stats, we’re just as good against the pass as the run,” Lewis said, “but we’ve played predominantly running teams so it will be a different challenge for us this week. We have to find a way to put pressure on (Tierney) ” by watching film not many teams have been able to do that. He’ll pick you apart if you give him time.”
The quarterbacks are special, and their efficiency will be key in the state championship, but there is another individual for each team whose versatility make defenses nervous every time their on the field. If you can’t remember their name, just look for No. 25 on their respective jerseys.
For Truckee, it’s senior wingback Jamie Maehler. He has caught 40 passes for 665 yards and has rushed for seven touchdowns on only 19 carries. Not only is he dangerous on the first three downs, his left leg routinely helps Truckee in the field position battle. It’s standard for Maehler to punt the ball more than 40 yards down field and not uncommon for it to travel 50.
For Moapa, it’s senior wingback Zach Davis. Smaller than Maehler’s 6-foot-4 build, Davis stands at 6-foot and weighs 30 pounds less than Maehler’s 200, but he still packs the same punch. Davis has 31 catches for 674 yards and 50 carries for 440 yards; all told, he has 20 touchdowns ” eight more than Maehler. Davis is also deadly with his foot, but he puts the ball through the uprights. He has 10 field goals of 50 yards or more in his varsity career.
Unlike Maehler, however, Davis plays defense and returns kickoffs and punts, and that may work to Truckee’s advantage late in the game. But Shaffer knows Davis has had numerous punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns in his career.
“I keep telling the kids not to kick it to the guy that can hurt us most, but that doesn’t always happen,” he said. “He’s really elusive; he can stop and accelerate quickly and make people miss. We can’t lunge to make tackles; we have to wrap up and grab cloth.”
Davis’ exceptional field-goal kicking mirrors that of Truckee’s Benji Islas. Islas has made five field goals this season, including a 49 and 55-yarder.
For Truckee and Moapa, the buck doesn’t stop at one quarterback and one star player, though, and that’s what separates them from most high school programs. Lewis alternates four running backs, including Drew Solomon (450 yards), Darrin Applegate (317), Taylor Leavitt (260) and Tyler Bailey (200); Truckee rotates four main backs as well: Nick Cabral (587, 13 rushing TDs), Micah Carbajal (558), Ben Tonon (5 TDs) and Mike Lopez (316).
For Truckee, Brandon Peterson (23 catches) and Gordon Neelands (22 catches) have ensured that teams don’t focus specifically on Maehler. Bowler is not afraid to look off Davis, either; Monty Featherston has caught seven touchdown passes and Ryan Leavitt has 18 receptions.
The variety on offense ” aided by the fact that both towns (Moapa is in Overton, Nev.) are football-centered and typically carry large rosters ” is what gives defenses so much trouble. The multi-weapon approach is a staple of the Wing-T offense, which Moapa runs about a quarter of the time, Lewis said. Truckee football, however, is defined by it.
“Truckee runs it better than just about anybody,” Lewis said. “If you have good athletes, it gives you a lot of versatility, and it’s one of the hardest defenses to defend. There’s so many different formations and plays they can run.”
One more recognizable difference among the teams is each boasts an all-senior, experienced offensive line. The glory goes to the backs, but the line is the catalyst of any solid offense.
With each team so much alike in so many aspects, what gives one or another the edge, if any? For Truckee, the fact that no players play both sides of the ball may help, especially if the game goes into overtime. For Moapa, which lost the 2001 championship in northern Nevada at Spanish Springs High School, its advantage may lie in the stress of traveling.
“We have to drive an hour (to Sam Boyd Stadium) and don’t have to sit on a bus all day,” Lewis said. “But it’s all about preparation.”
Or, like a majority of football games do, the difference could come down to which team makes the least turnovers. In Moapa’s only loss, they lost the ball six times. Truckee coughed it up to Hug three times back on Sept. 3. Moapa has won 13 state championships since 1943. Truckee has won six since 1983.
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Gr.
1 Ryan Leavitt WR, DB 5’10” 170 12
2 Tyler Bailey RB, DE 5’8″ 170 11
3 Tyler Campbell LB, QB 5’10” 180 10
5 Kade Robison DB, WR 6’0″ 147 12
6 Adam Paul LB, RB 6’3″ 220 10
7 Jeff Bowler QB 6’2″ 165 12
10 Robert Bischoff DB, WR 5’10” 151 12
11 Gyver Wimberly TE, LB, S 6’2″ 185 12
12 Michael Davis QB, TE, DE 6’2″ 210 11
14 Tyler Samson DB, WR 5’11” 143 12
20 Drue Solomon RB, DB 5’8″ 143 11
21 Kyle Ozaki DB, RB 5’6″ 135 10
24 Justin Scacco DB, WR 5’9″ 142 12
25 Zach Davis WR, S 6’0″ 170 12
32 Jared Smith LB, FB 6’0″ 170 12
33 Gary Weiss FB, LB 5’9″ 170 12
34 Taylor Leavitt FB, LB 6’0″ 173 11
40 Darrin Applegate RB, DE 5’7″ 148 12
42 Cameron Jack DB, WR 5’7″ 145 11
44 Neston Mealey FB, LB 5’8″ 161 12
46 Israel Perez WR, DB 5’11” 126 11
50 Tyken Houston DE, WR 5’8″ 145 11
51 Travis Taylor DT, T 6’0″ 242 11
52 D.J. Schwartz LB, C 6’0″ 185 12
54 Greg Leal DE, T 6’0″ 165 11
54 Casey Jones LB, OL 5’4″ 160 11
55 Chris Lamping LB, G 6’4″ 215 12
56 Kaden Leavitt T, DE 6’1″ 170 12
56 Drew Hortt DL, OL 5’10” 230 11
60 Lance Kirk G, DT 5’10” 160 11
61 Daniel Rohr T, DT 5’9″ 160 12
62 Dustin Sprague DB 5’5″ 167 11
64 Justin Starnes C, DT 5’10” 176 12
65 Chase Doty G, DT 6’0″ 200 12
66 Michael Eide C, LB 5’11” 155 12
68 Cortney Staley T, DT 6’1″ 204 12
68 Wade Hardy DL, OL 6’1″ 230 11
70 Bobby Ehrman G, DT 6’0″ 361 11
71 Michael Hoe T, DT 6’0″ 170 12
71 Zach Hanks WR 5’7″ 171 11
72 Ben Moreno T, DT 5’6″ 206 12
74 Brockton Chappell T, DT 5’9″ 187 11
75 Joeseph Lawter DL, OL 5’9″ 195 11
75 Chad Zamito T, DT 6’3″ 251 12
76 Jacob Askeroth G, LB 5’10” 160 12
76 Shannon Sandoval LB, OL 5’9″ 160 11
78 Jonathon Marsh T, DT 5’10” 170 12
80 Seth Collup DE, TE 6’2″ 178 11
80 Spencer May LB, TE 5’10” 155 10
88 Monty Featherston WR, DE 6’2″ 183 12
Jacob Lewis T, DT 6’0″ 172 11
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.