Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer return with a breakdown of the two games as part of the Sollenberger Classic. Can Bishop Gorman win its first national game of the year against Arizona's Chaparral High? Moapa Valley also challenges Show Low at the University of Phoenix stadium this weekend.
For the residents of Moapa Valley to fill up University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, each one of them would need to attend a game and bring 10 friends.
It’s rare that a high school football team from Nevada’s smaller-school classification gets a chance to play in a national game, let alone in a professional venue. Moapa Valley High will have the opportunity Saturday when it challenges Arizona’s Show Low High in the first game of the Sollenberger Classic.
“When the kids found out we were playing in the Cardinals’ stadium, that was an eye-opening thing for them,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “They have just been so excited.”
In the past, participants in the Sollenberger Classic were limited to the defending Nevada 4A state champion and its Arizona 5A counterpart. But classic officials decided to include the 3A this year as a way to feature Show Low, which is ranked No. 413 in the nation by Maxpreps.com.
As last year’s Nevada 3A state champion, Truckee High was first offered the game. When Truckee turned it down, the option fell to 2010 runner-up Moapa Valley. It didn’t take the Pirates long to accept.
“I went to the other coaches, and they were like, ‘Let’s jump on this,’ ” Lewis said. “This is really a great way to start our season. Win or lose, I just don’t see any downside to it.”
The classic will pay for Moapa Valley’s three-night hotel stay and host a banquet including all four teams. The Pirates plan to practice twice in the Phoenix area and will also receive a tour of the stadium the day before their game.
It’s the kind of treatment that’s memorable to any prep sports team, but especially one that isn’t used to it. Moapa Valley doesn’t a have a national reputation as a football powerhouse like Bishop Gorman or Arizona’s Chaparral High, the two teams that meet in the second game Saturday.
Maxpreps lists Gorman and Chaparral as 10th and 24th in the country, respectively. The website ranks Moapa Valley as the 5,437th team in the nation.
Gorman’s roster is littered with Division-I recruits, while no major college programs are after anyone from Moapa Valley.
“I definitely didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to play in an NFL stadium,” said Jacob Rebman, a senior tight end and linebacker for Moapa Valley. “I really like the Arizona Cardinals, so I’m excited to play there.”
Rebman grew up a Cardinals fan because of their proximity and television availability to Southern Nevada. His favorite player is wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whom he said he wished he could emulate on the field.
But the biggest challenge for Rebman and the other team leaders may have nothing to do with catching passes or making tackles. They’ll need to ensure their teammates are mentally ready to play and not too encapsulated with jitters in the moment.
“Maybe at the beginning we will be nervous, but I think we’ll settle down and be calm,” senior quarterback Dakota Watters said. “Our goal is to win a state championship and I think this will benefit us greatly.”
Lewis would argue the Sollenberger Classic has already helped the Pirates. The coach received an overwhelming response from his players when he told them about the game this summer.
Motivated by the opportunity, Lewis said more players than ever showed up during daily summer weightlifting sessions. He described their work ethic in the offseason as “phenomenal.”
“This team is a lot more focused,” Rebman said. “We did lose quite a few players from last year, but we had a lot of good juniors and a lot of players in line.”
In addition to Watters and Rebman, the Pirates will heavily rely on junior running back and defensive back Sean McConnell. Moapa Valley was known for its passing attack last season, but Lewis said it would run the ball more frequently this year with McConnell likely to emerge as the leading rusher.
The Pirates will have quite the stage to show off their new-look team. Before Saturday, the biggest stadium most of the team had played in was the one at Arbor View High School for last year’s state championship.
“The closest thing I had was the Silver Bowl back in 2004 when they had the 3A state championship there,” Lewis said. “It’s a drop in the bucket compared to this. What can I say? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”