Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 | 2:05 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer get one final football discussion in before the end of the season. They look back on the semifinals and move on to the state championship.
As Tony Sanchez watched game film from past seasons of the Bishop Gorman High football team he was just hired to coach, he quickly came to a conclusion: Although the program he was entrusted with in early 2009 had a few talented players, they weren’t the powerhouse he envisioned them becoming, and they had some major deficiencies.
It surely wasn’t pretty.
He watched tape of the Gaels' 36-point loss to Palo Verde in the 2008 Sunset Regional championship game — they were outplayed and embarrassed that night in late November by a program some considered the benchmark in Nevada.
He saw them trail Cheyenne at halftime during the same postseason, rallying in the second half for a 1-point victory. He saw them struggle to win against Spring Valley and Sierra Vista that same year, knowing games against those two schools were never easy because they each beat Gorman in 2006.
He knew they had notables such as DeMarco Murray (now the Dallas Cowboys running back) and Ryan Reynolds in past seasons and still couldn’t make a memorable postseason run.
Fast-forward five years.
When Gorman takes on Reed High of Northern Nevada at 1:07 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium for the Division I state championship, it will be playing to become the first large-school classification team in more than 80 years to win five straight titles. Reno High was the last team with five consecutive crowns, from 1924-28. Division IV power Pahranagat Valley High of Alamo (2008-2013) has won six straight championships and the Meadows won five straight from 1997-2001.
“There is a legacy going on. You don’t want to be the team that ended (the streak),” Sanchez said. “You want to be the guys to keep it going. There is a lot of pressure, but at the same time, it is very special.
“How come it has been so long? Why has it been 84 years? Because it’s a hard thing to do. The ball has to bounce the right way. You have to have a good team. You have to work at it. We have talked about it. The kids understand the magnitude of it. That’s why they’ve continued to practice so hard.”
A victory would be another previously unthinkable accomplishment in a legacy that’s already firmly established. You could easily argue this is the best dynasty in the history of Nevada football.
Gorman has won state every season since Sanchez was hired and hasn’t lost to an instate foe since the '08 setback to Palo Verde, capturing nearly 60 straight games and only once not winning by more than 20 points. They’ve also become a national brand, facing a respected out-of-state schedule and beating regional and national powers each year. Some of the games are televised nationally, bringing much recognition to the area.
Whether it’s a game against the nation’s No. 1-ranked team or the last-place team in Gorman’s Southwest League, Sanchez has made a point to prepare his players the same. That consistency has given them a comfort level to perform in big games.
“It starts with the coaching staff constantly, constantly making sure we work our hardest day in and day out,” said Zack Singer, Gorman’s two-way starting lineman who will play in his fourth championship game. “We are focusing on ourselves more than anything else. It starts with ourselves. The way we work and the amount of time we put in during the week doesn’t change with the opponent.”
Watching film those initial weeks on the job, Sanchez never envisioned the Gaels' immediate dominance. Sure, it’s what he wanted the program to eventually blossom into, but he knew it wouldn’t happen overnight. He immediately answers, “No,” when asked if he thought Gorman would win five straight to open his tenure.
“The margin wasn’t that big,” said Sanchez, listing the loss to Palo Verde and near-loss to Cheyenne in comparing his team to local competition.
Five years later, the margin is immeasurable.
Gorman beat Legacy just 31-18 in its opener against local schools but still outscored Las Vegas teams 437-67 in eight games. That’s impressive considering the unplanned player turnover, especially offensively.
In the offseason, Gorman lost projected starters Nate Starks at running back, Keenan Smith at wide receiver and Isaiah Nacua on the defensive line. Starks and Nacua, significant parts of the past two championship teams, would have been the state’s top two players. Smith would have been starting at wide receiver, where Gorman was thin because of having to replace standouts Ryan Smith and Jamir Tillman to graduation and college football.
They also had to replace quarterback Anu Solomon, who was Gorman’s four-year starter and Nevada’s all-time passing leader. That’s what makes this season’s run so rewarding for Sanchez and his assistants — it shows the player depth they’ve developed.
“I’m just so proud of this group. They haven’t blinked an eyelash,” Sanchez said. “They continued to grind and work. They truly believe they are great because they play here. That’s a powerful thing.”
It would be easy to start examining their legacy and become content with what’s already been accomplished, but players remain hungry. They approach the game as a team playing for their first championship. The pregame jitters and excitement never get old.
“It hasn’t dawned on me yet,” wide receiver Terrance Chambers, a three-year varsity performer, said about Gorman’s dynasty. “I’m really going game by game. Five in a row hasn’t crossed my mind. I’m just worried about one, honestly.”
And while five straight appears to be a reality, Gorman isn’t overlooking Reed. Gorman beat Reed 62-21 in the 2009 state semifinals, 72-28 in the 2011 state championship game and 49-24 in last year’s semifinals.
However, last’s year victory was anything but leisurely. Reed twice had leads in the first half and gave Gorman more than it bargained for. Plus, Reed has nothing to lose because not too many expect the Sparks school to win.
“Coach (Ernie) Howren does a good job,” Sanchez said. “At the end of the day, it seems every time we play a Reno team, it’s always them. He always has them right there. Liberty is a good football team, and for (Reed) to beat those guys (in the state semifinals last week) speaks volumes. We fully expect those guys to come in and give us everything we can handle.”
If Gorman does prevail, and only if it prevails, the players and coaches will take a moment to appreciate their body of work. After all, they are playing for a mark not accomplished in more than 80 years.
“Maybe after the game I will sit back and look at what we’ve done,” said Singer, Gorman’s captain. “But I’m not going to look back until we accomplish what we set out to accomplish. ... It’s definitely going to be sad either way. I’ve been playing alongside these guys and with the coaches for four years. These are my brothers.”