Northern division champion Wolverines drain Lakers
Amid shouts from the stands and drum rolls from the bands, the North Tahoe Lakers and the Tahoe-Truckee Wolverines battled it out Saturday at North Tahoe for the league championship, the chance to host the playoffs and bragging rights.
North Tahoe and Truckee have one of the fiercest rivalries in the league and both teams wanted the victory badly. Although North Tahoe had the better league record going into the game at 7-0, Truckee took control of the line of scrimmage early on and brought home a 25-14 victory.
“It was a toss up going into the game,” said Truckee head coach Bob Schaffer. The halftime score was 7-6 with Truckee in the lead.
Although Truckee has dominated the NIAA 3A state championships throughout the 1990s, winning the state championship four times, three of which were under Schaffer who has been coaching at Truckee since 1993, the Wolverines suffered an early season loss to Spring Creek 20-15 at home and it seemed that this year would be one for rebuilding the Truckee team.
Though the Lakers haven’t beaten Truckee since 1987, North Tahoe has had its best season in years with a line that is superior in both size and experience and has helped the Lakers’ quarterback Billy Freeman and running back Bryan Collins both gain over 1100 yards in passing and rushing, respectively. The Lakers went to great lengths to ensure that last Saturday’s game would end in a North Tahoe victory; John Corda and other community members pitched in to employ the services of a helicopter to dry the field after several volunteers brought snowblowers out to remove all the snow and ice that an early winter deposited on the field.
A balance between running and passing defined the Lakers this season, giving them a variety of offensive options. Truckee is the first team in league this season to successfully upset that balance and completely shut down North Tahoe’s running game. The Lakers, a team which rarely has under 200 rushing yards a game, was kept to under 50 rushing yards by the Wolverines.
North Tahoe had trouble throughout the game with blitzes as there were at least three Wolverines at a time taking down Lakers running back Bryan Collins, who went into the game with 1175 rushing yards for the season.
The Lakers still had a passing game in its arsenal but Truckee’s defensive line managed to control the line of scrimmage for almost the entire game, making it hard for North Tahoe to give quarterback Billy Freeman enough protection. Freeman completed 16 of 26 passes for 236 yards, thanks to the outstanding receiving efforts of Joe Stinson who skillfully read the Truckee defense and ran back toward the ball, allowing Freeman to escape an ensuing sack. However, Freeman was officially sacked three times but took a lot of big hits, shaking Laker confidence.
“We wanted to contain them and not allow any big plays,” said Schaffer.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, were allowed some big plays. Running back Casey Nelson, ran for 68 of his game total of 156 yards and his second touchdown after a key block by offensive guard Paul Smith bringing the the team to a 14-6 lead shortly after half time.
Nelson pushed the team toward a successful running game and Truckee quarterback sophomore Kevin Schlesinger only had to attempt eight passes, five of which were completed for 73 yards.
Despite that fact that this was only Nelson’s fourth game of the season, due to ankle injuries, he definitely made the difference after the offensive line disabled Bryan Collins and the North Tahoe running game.
“They are a focused ball club and we just weren’t focused on Saturday,” said North Tahoe coach Bill Freeman.
Last Saturday’s game means that Truckee is the first seed going into the divisional playoffs and will host the first game against Spring Creek next Saturday Nov. 11, and North Tahoe will have to make the long trip down south and play against Moapa Valley the same day.
Both North Tahoe and Truckee are 7-2 league are expected to win the next round of playoffs and if so, the real showdown will be when the Lakers and the Wolverines, both California teams, battle it out for the Nevada state 3A championship.
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As seniors from North Tahoe collected diplomas this week, a group of Lakers continued another local tradition — capturing first place at the boys’ regional golf championship.