Even if bookmaking were allowed for high school football in Nevada, there's still a good chance no line would be issued for the first-round Northern 4A playoff game between Douglas and McQueen high schools tonight in Reno.
Never mind that McQueen is 8-1 overall and boasts a rich tradition that includes three state championships and five zone titles in the 1990s. Or that Douglas is 3-6 and has won only one of four postseason games. This is the playoffs and the past will be forgotten when the two squads take the field for a 7 p.m. kickoff at McQueen's John Robb Stadium.
"The playoffs are a brand new season, and as always, there's a real sense of urgency for us," said Ken Dalton, who is in his 18th season since first organizing McQueen's football program in 1982. "We get very, very excited about the playoffs, and we try to prepare accordingly."
Mike Rippee, now in his 15th season as head coach at Douglas, knows all too well about the McQueen Lancers
"When you're talking about McQueen, it's not only physical but attitude," Rippee said. "They're not hoping to win the game. They're expecting to win, not only this game but they expect to go on and play for the state championship," Rippee said.
Douglas opened its season with a 27-0 loss at McQueen on Aug. 27. Dating back a little further, the Tigers lost their first 4A playoff game 45-3 at McQueen in 1996. But again, there's no looking back.
"We're going up there to win the game," said Rippee, whose 1-3 playoff record includes a 45-42 playoff win at Elko in 1997. "Sure, we know that's going to be no easy task, and it's going to take 48 minutes of intense football to do it, but I'm confident our kids will go up there and give a great effort."
Dalton always emphasizes McQueen's success in all phases of the game, but this season, it would be hard to not look at a defense that began the season with three straight shutouts and has allowed 81 points overall in nine games.
"Their defense is always their strength, and this year is no different," Rippee said. "Their middle linebacker, No. 88 (Matt White) is a leader and the rest of the defense is solid around him. They run to the ball 150 miles per hour. They might make a mistake, but you'd never know it because other guys are there to make the play. Defense wins championships, and they certainly have that type of defense."
On offense, junior running back Chris Carr has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season and is one player the Tigers are wary of. But he certainly isn't the only weapon.
"You've got to get your hat on Carr, because if you let down at all, he will will take it all the way," Rippee said. "And their quarterback (Brian Fritz) has gotten a lot better since the start of the season; he can do a lot of things so you can't put all your marbles in one basket."
McQueen's only loss came by a 29-28 score Sept. 17 at Granite Bay, Calif. The Lancers have also shown the ability to come from behind, as was evident Oct. 15 when they scored two touchdowns inside the final four minutes of play to beat Reed 18-14. Dalton makes the formula sound simple.
"We put a tremendous emphasis on senior leadership and we always look forward to playing every game," Dalton said. "We're really looking forward to playing a fine Douglas football team Friday night. They've done a very nice job to get here."
Douglas didn't get to the playoffs on the strength of any stars. In fact, they recovered from a knee injury that sidelined leading rusher Kyle Baker for two weeks and a season-ending injury to wide receiver Gabe Hatchett, who was leading the Northern 4A with 36 receptions when he went down.
Baker is still the team's leading scorer with 10 touchdowns and top rusher with 434 yards (4.8 yard per carry average), but Kolt Clore, Jason Porterfield, sophomore Monte McCann and Justin Patay have contributed to the running game. McCann rushed for 74 yards and one touchdown for the Tigers in their 13-9 win against Carson this past Friday, and Jake Ford scored three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing) one week prior in the Tigers' 28-6 win at Fallon. Quarterback Brandon Griffith has completed 99 of 189 passes for 1,101 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions. And all of those yards have been gained behind an offensive line anchored by the strongside combo of tackle Bryce Lister (6-2, 230) and guard Sili Mafua (6-0, 290 and a three-year starter).
The Tigers have come far to get to the playoffs, recovering from an 0-4 start, not to mention some key injuries.
"It's an accomplishment we're happy to have and I only give credit to the kids and all the hard work they've put in," Rippee said. "It would have been easy to fold up the tent when we were 0-4, but this is a special group that hung in there and won the games we needed to win. Win or lose these kids have done everything they could to get into this position."
And Rippee has no regrets whatsoever about bringing a 3-6 record to the playoffs.
"Everyone has worked extremely hard to get this opportunity, and like I've told the kids, 'You can't beat anybody if you're sitting home on Friday night."