Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer are back with their weekly look at high school football. In this episode, they debate how to rank Arbor View, Palo Verde, Green Valley and Liberty.
Don’t judge the Rancho High football team by its record or how badly it has performed in games the past few seasons.
Don’t judge the Rams on the size or inexperience of their players.
Don’t judge them by an ugly 17-season losing streak to Las Vegas High in the annual “Bone Game,” a rivalry that was at its peak back in the day when the teams were evenly matched but is still a source of pride for alumni. This year's game is 7 p.m. Friday at Rancho.
Here’s all you need to know about Rancho, one of Nevada’s oldest high school football programs: The players haven’t quit; they won’t stop fighting. Although the season has been nothing but lopsided defeats in being outscored 211-15 in the initial four games, following the script from last season when they went 0-9 and scored just 40 points, the players are thriving in their high school football experience. Yes, thriving.
Remember, a winning record isn’t the only factor in defining success.
The teenagers at Rancho have learned how to be reliable teammates, that hard work isn’t always immediately rewarded and that it takes a special person to keep getting up after being repeatedly knocked down. Sounds like the real world, right?
Friday, when they take the field against Las Vegas in that rivalry game everyone lines up to see, the Rancho players will be playing for more than ending the streak.
They’ll be playing for all those players before them that proudly wore the Rancho green.
While they likely won’t be able to control the outcome in a game they appear to be overmatched in, they can control their effort and fighting until the final whistle. You only get to play in this rivalry game a handful of times, after all.
The teams, which have played each other for more than 50 years, started competing for the bone in the 1970s when a butcher donated a cow bone to the rivalry. It’s now bronzed.
Sure, the Rams haven’t beaten Las Vegas since 1995, meaning whenever the Bone comes back home to Rancho, there will be some big-time celebrating. But regardless of the outcome Friday, there will still be some celebrating on the Rancho side. Simply playing in the game is something the players will cherish.
This is not a concession speech, nor does it signal that Rancho players doubt they can win. Rather, it’s them having the maturity to show respect for the game and its traditions. They won’t disrespect others who have played — for either team — by not giving it their best.
“It’s a pretty amazing feeling to get to be part of this game,” senior quarterback Maxwell Luarca said. “We don’t like to consider one game our whole season, but as a senior, I would like to be able to say I won it and brought the Bone back home.”
First-year coach Tyrone Armstrong is determined to build the program back into competitiveness and knows the rivalry is an opportunity other struggling programs don’t have.
Tickets are presold and are frequently sold out. Game highlights are shown on the nightly news and famous alumni reach out to show their support. For three hours it feels like the 1970s, when Las Vegas was still a small town and this game was the only event that mattered.
It’s like playing in a postseason game without making the playoffs, which will help Rancho’s team of mostly sophomores develop for the future.
“You take your lumps and bruises, you fight tooth and nail,” Armstrong said. “That will be your measuring stick. Now, you will know what you have to do (to get better). They are going to get some on-the-job training; some tough love. In the end, they’ll be better for it."
Las Vegas has become one of the state’s perennial powers during the streak, reaching the playoffs each season and winning three state championships. Rancho has had 16 consecutive losing seasons. In the 2008 game, Rancho scored 42 points and still lost by three touchdowns.
That doesn’t mean Las Vegas is taking the Rams lightly.
From a game-day breakfast to cheerleaders decorating the locker room with signs of encouragement, this rivalry — despite the recent history of domination — is still the most significant game on the Las Vegas schedule.
“We know Rancho has been down the last year or two, but they are working hard,” Las Vegas coach James Thurman said. “We have had the Bone for 17 years. We don’t want to be the group to lose it.
"We tell the kids it is a rivalry game,” he continued. “They are going to play as hard as they can for as long as they can play.”
It’s because of Armstrong the Rancho players keep fighting.
When he was hired last winter, he took inventory of what the program needed to become competitive. He quickly realized they needed a complete overhaul — the basics such as weight training equipment and field gear that are commonplace at most schools, were noticeable missing.
Then, he looked at the uniforms, which weren’t exactly uniform.
“You see this style right there, you see that style right there,” Armstrong said, pointing to last year’s uniforms, which are now practice jerseys. “They were mixing and matching. I would count to 25 (when doing inventory) and there would be a whole new set of uniforms. It would be white, but some would be white with a green stripe and others would be white with black outlined numbers.”
Susan Spencer, a Las Vegas radio personality and former general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, came to the rescue. After hearing of the program’s struggles on her show, she reached out to Armstrong with fundraising ideas. With her backing, a new weight-training area was built with some new equipment, players attended summer camp at a discounted rate and, most important, uniforms were purchased.
Gone are the days when three different styles of jerseys were worn in games, giving the players more confidence and pride because they finally look like a team. Also, players received a practice shirt and shorts free of charge, which is invaluable in the lower-income Rancho zone.
“We ask them to get better each day,” Armstrong said. “Just be better than you were yesterday and we’ll start winning. The kids aren't satisfied. They have some aspiration (including winning the Bone Game).
“It’s like shooting for the moon,” he continued. “If you miss, at least you are going to land on the stars.”
That’s why it’s important not to judge these football players from Rancho. Regardless of what happens Friday, they will be resilient. They live to fight another day. They will eventually bring the Bone home.