Thursday, Oct. 23, 2003 | 10:24 a.m.
Days before the season, Desert Pines coach Leon Evans typed a one-paragraph preview of his football program that stated it would be "rebuilding" this year after enjoying the school's most successful season in 2002.
Eight games into the season, Desert Pines is taking a five-game winning streak into Friday's showdown with Las Vegas for the Northeast Division championship -- exactly where the Jaguars stood at this time last year.
This is rebuilding?
"You know, I'm a senior, so I really don't like hearing that phrase going around too much," said Desert Pines offensive lineman Robert Travers.
Travers no longer hears that ugly phrase. At 6-2 (4-0 Northeast), the Jaguars replaced thier thoughts of rebuilding with dreams of taking another run at the Wildcats (8-0, 4-0) and getting another crack at the 4A state title game. Enough with the talk of a down year, senior defensive back Mike Washington said.
"At the beginning of the season, everybody thought we were going to be low because we lost so many players," Washington said. "But like we told everybody, we lost a lot of players, but a lot of good players came back and a lot of good players came up (from JV)."
"We started off slow, but now we've picked it up. Now we're playing as a team. To us, we're where we want to be at, where we knew we were supposed to be at -- two 4-0 teams playing for the division championship."
Evans maintains that he did not know at first if his younger crop would ably replace the Nevada player of the year (Cornell Johnson), a Division I nose guard (Curtis Coker), and three more All-State performers (Marcel Johnson, Kawon Walker, Lee Dorsey).
"We did, we really did (think we were rebuilding)," Evans said. "All the guys we lost last year, we lost our horses."
A nucleus including Travers, Washington, and senior quarterback Josh Webster is all Evans could trust. After three games, not much could be trusted and the rebuilding label did not appear so wrong for Desert Pines.
The Jaguars were coming off an embarrassing 38-7 loss at Cimarron-Memorial, a game in which few at Desert Pines felt they even competed as they fell to 1-2. Some Jaguars felt the team was still stuck on last year's accomplishments instead of this year's effort.
"We didn't expect it to happen to us," Webster said. "It was kind of a shellshock. We realized we were human and we've got to play every week. They're not just going to give up to us. We went out and started playing like we were supposed to."
Evans made sure his players took a long look at the game film of the Cimarron defeat.
"The kids actually saw it on tape, how bad they played," Evans said. "As a unit, they just made a decision -- we can't be that bad."
There is no magic switch that Desert Pines flipped, Travers said. Improving was simply a matter of increased effort in practice and better focus on the teaching of the coaching staff.
"That's the hardest thing -- to show them what it takes to be winners like that," Travers said.
With renewed effort came showings like a 72-point outburst against Chaparral. The Jaguars have scored 36 points or more in four of their past five games. Running back Steve Golden and strong safety Jeff Long, a transfer from Chaparral, emerged as new go-to players for the Jaguars.
And most important, Desert Pines began playing up to the standard set by last year's senior class. That is what the Jaguars believe will be needed to knock Las Vegas from its undefeated perch.
"Now, it's time for us to show that the first time we beat them wasn't a fluke," Washington said.
That first time came in last year's Sunrise Region title game, where the Jaguars whipped the Wildcats, 42-18. The loss ended Las Vegas' perfect season and its quest for a second consecutive state championship.
Evans expects those memories to be fresh when the teams hook up at Las Vegas' Frank Nails Field.
"They have the emotional factor this week because they've got a bad taste in their mouth," Evans said.
Travers feels his team needs no such incentive against its biggest rival.
"We have something to prove to ourselves, not to anybody else," Travers said. "We've had doubters all year, but that's not really the stuff that motivates us."