Besides the oddity of Elko's team last year, the state playoffs is usually when McQueen finally gets tested. And coach Ken Dalton doesn't think it will be any different when the Lancers host Sunset Region champion Palo Verde today at 1 p.m. at John Robb Stadium in the state semifinals.
Sunrise Region champion Desert Pines will play Cheyenne today in the other semifinal.
"We don't see that Las Vegas speed and quickness until this time of year," Dalton said of the Panthers, who use a slew of running backs on offense. "They are exceptionally quick. They have six, seven running backs that they use. And they change it up and really rotate those kids. One game, they had one kid who rushed for 150 yards, then another game they had someone else rush for 163."
Jamal Brumfield rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown in Palo Verde's 28-14 win over Cheyenne last week. Brumfield left the game with an injury but the Panthers' five other ball carriers still gained 219 yards. Their quarterback attempted only two passes.
Two years ago in a 29-14 win over Eldorado in the state semifinals, McQueen had to contain a incredible back in Steven Jackson, who is finishing up a phenomenal year at Oregon State. Dalton, though, thinks preparing for this game defensively will be much different than that one.
"They run the offense with everybody tight. We play assignment defense and we have to be very disciplined and physical," Dalton said. "They are a running team and that's what they are going to do."
Dalton scoffs at the idea that the Lancers struggle when they get to state simply because they haven't been tested during the regular season against Northern 4A teams. Southern Nevada teams have several tough games throughout the year and that explains why Palo Verde is 8-3 going into this game and McQueen is 12-0 after its 37-6 rout of Reno in the Northern 4A championship.
"That's a hypothetical question, you never know," Dalton said. "Our kids focus one game at a time no matter who the opponent is. All we can do is just work very hard on our fundamentals."
The Lancers have outscored their opponents 597-28 this season. But that gap should be closer after today because while McQueen's defense is what stands out most about this team, Palo Verde's isn't too bad, either. The Panthers held Cheyenne to only 135 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers in last week's game.
Last year, Dalton led the Lancers to their fourth straight state title game but then lost to Las Vegas in overtime. McQueen will be going for its fifth state title since 1990 and a win today would advance them to an impressive fifth state title game. And if things don't go so smoothly today, there will be two Lancers the rest of the team can look to.
"We have an outstanding winning tradition that we call 'Lancer Pride'," Dalton said. "But we have two kids (seniors Mohu Otuafi and Charles Tolbert) who are three-year starters. They've won the state championship in 2000 and know how it feels to lose in the championship game in overtime last year. It should be a very motivating factor. I think it's going to be a very physical game and I would be very surprised if it's a shootout."
In other words, no more blowout wins for the Lancers.