On the defensive
Sierra Sun sports editor
The old adage in football is that the offense gets the glory, but defense wins championships.
The Truckee Wolverines have to win three more games to claim the 3A state championship, but getting to that point will be a lot less stressful if the defense continues to shut teams down like it has in seven consecutive Wolverines’ wins.
While a dynamic, diverse offense has had nine different players score at least one touchdown this season, the Wolverines’ defense has quietly shunned offenses and yielded just 10.75 points per game. If you remove the 34 points given up to Hug in a season-opening loss on Sept. 3, that figure drops to 8.3 points per game over the last seven.
But none of the Truckee defensive coaches or players would want to remove that Hug game from the record. When Hug’s star running back Isaac Porter ” now Greater Nevada’s second leading rusher (2,044 yards) ” rolled up 321 yards rushing and four touchdowns in that game, the Wolverines used the negative experience to their advantage.
“The Hug game was probably the best thing that happened to us all year,” said Truckee defensive coordinator Gary Collins. “It really exposed the weaknesses we had ” mostly in technique and not necessarily in personnel. It helped us solidify our scheme and cover those weaknesses.”
The main weakness for Truckee in that game was tackling, against Porter mostly but against the entire Hawks’ backfield. Hug running backs were able to wrack up over 400 yards rushing, routinely breaking the through the line and into or beyond the secondary for big gains.
“In the second half, we just didn’t have kids getting where they needed to be,” said senior middle linebacker Jimmy Williams. “I think overall it was a big wake-up call.”
A bye week gave Truckee two weeks to sort out its problems, and the defense responded with a 52-0 shutout in the Northern 3A opener at Sparks on Sept. 17.
“Beforehand, we thought we were pretty good,” said Truckee senior linebacker Dan Ballou. “But when we had that first loss, it really woke us up and made us realize that maybe we have a lot farther to go. All the screwing around in practice stopped right then.”
Collins said, “Since Hug our tackling has improved immensely. Down the line we got against some good running backs, like (Spring Creek’s James) Edwards, and we tackled well. North Tahoe has two good running backs, and we tackled well against them.”
Edwards and Porter are the only Greater Nevada running backs with over 2,000 yards. When Edwards’ Spartans traveled to Truckee on Sept. 25, the Wolverines contained Edwards to a modest 164 yards on 37 carries ” that is considering Edwards has rushed for 259 yards per game this season and now has 2,590.
“Going against that running back (Isaac Porter) really helped us to know what we have and do our best,” said senior safety Randon Nunez. “They were really good ” their running back’s No. 2 (in yardage) in the state.”
Defensive tackle Tom Kokenge thinks Truckee has improved so much since losing to 4A Hug that it would be a different outcome if the teams were to face off today.
“We were a little disappointed at first, but I think we could beat them if we played them now,” said Kokenge, also a senior.
Being that Hug is a 4A school, the next meeting between Hug and Truckee won’t occur until next season, but Truckee can thank Hug for kick-starting a defensive surge that led to five wins in which Truckee gave up six points or less.
A major part of a successful defensive formula is the ability to cause turnovers, and Truckee has 19 ” 13 interceptions and six fumble recoveries ” and has scored two defensive touchdowns in eight games.
No one has been a bigger nuisance to opposing offenses than Nunez. The 5-11, 175-pound safety leads the team in tackles (85) and interceptions (6), has two sacks, six knockdowns and has both defensive touchdowns on interception returns. Junior John Hooper is second on the team with five interceptions and first with seven knockdowns.
Riley Allanson, who leads the team with four sacks, and Kyle Steverman, who has three, have anchored a defensive line that is the “deepest on the team,” Collins said.
Collins said the defensive coaching staff has subbed in many players throughout the year, so the defense as a whole deserves the credit.
Going into Saturday’s game versus North Tahoe, Collins expects the Lakers to exhaust all their options to improve on a 51-3 shellacking at the hands of Truckee last weekend in the regular season finale.
“I expect in this one, they will probably use multiple formations, try to spread us out, try to get somebody open; funny formations, trick plays,” he said. “We call them junk plays. I don’t know if I’m fearful, but you’re always wondering what’s going to happen.”
The Wolverines’ defense has come a long way since that first Friday night at Hug, and now Collins is struggling to find something negative to say.
“Our defense is so balanced right now,” he said. “We played the pass well against Dayton and North Tahoe, and we played the run well against Spring Creek. I don’t know if I fear one or the other.”
Name Pos. Sacks Tackles PD INT FREC TD
Randon Nunez S 2 85 6 6 0 2
Jimmy Williams LB 0 52 0 0 0 0
Joe Lipnosky LB 0 52 0 1 0 0
Nathan Wrenn DE 0 33 4 0 1 0
John Hooper DB 0 24 7 5 0 0
Dan Ballou LB 0 36 3 0 4 0
Riley Allanson LB 4 16 0 0 0 0
Kyle Steverman DE 3 19 0 0 0 0
Scott Bosco DE 2 15 0 0 0 0
Randon Nunez, safety: “It’s just a matter of going out there and doing what you need to do. You don’t get as much glory or any of that stuff, but you’re going out there every day and defending your house, and that’s what it’s all about. Defense wins championships, baby.”
Tom Kokenge, defensive tackle: “I love the hitting and the contact – everything about it.”
Dan Ballou, linebacker: “Hitting kids; when you lay a good hit and they’re just looking scared. For the rest of the game they don’t want to do it; they don’t want to hit anybody. That’s the defensive goal.”
Jimmy Williams, linebacker (has been playing on varsity since sophomore): “Sticking a kid that’s bigger than me; putting a kid on his back that’s bigger than me.”
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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.