Friday, Oct. 16, 2015 | 10:45 p.m.
Members of the Desert Pines High football team needed a little laughter this week.
When they lined up to shake hands today after defeating Rancho 48-0 victory, one of their linemen playfully shouted: “6-2, baby!”
Desert Pines entered the week undefeated with a 7-0 record, but the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association ruled it had to forfeit two games for using an ineligible player.
The defeats lock the Jaguars, the presumed favorites to win the Division I-A state championship, into the No. 3 playoff seed from the Sunrise League.
Instead of having home field advantage when the playoffs start in two weeks, it will likely have to head to Overton in the second round to face rival Moapa Valley, the defending state champions. Moapa Valley rarely loses at home, and until early this season, controlled bragging rights with Desert Pines, including erasing a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter of last year’s state championship game for an improbable victory.
That loss launched Desert Pines on its “Unfinished Business” tour, which, as witnessed today, only got stronger with another case of adversity.
Isaiah Morris had four touchdowns and more than 200 rushing yards on just six carries, Marckell Grayson completed 7 of 9 passes for more than 100 yards and a touchdown, and Randal Grimes returned a punt for a touchdown.
The Jaguars showed, without question, that they are the best two-defeat team in Nevada. Laughter, right? And motivation.
“We’ll use this as a tool to be successful in the postseason,” Grayson said. “We are using this as motivation.”
Desert Pines has double-digit players with college scholarship offers and several seniors who are three-year varsity performers. They cried together on the field after the Moapa Valley loss in last season’s state game, consoled team leaders Sam Poutasi and Anthony Smith when they suffered ACL injuries, and played the games of their lives in a convincing win against power Arbor View to open the season.
While players were shocked to learn their undefeated season was no more earlier in the week, they quickly refocused. The primary goal has always been to the win the state title, and that’s still obtainable. It’s just going to be a tougher road.
“With this team, we have been through everything together,” said senior Trevor Nofoa, a two-way starter and captain. “We have been through everything. We all know we won the games. We won’t let it affect us. Our main goal is state. We are going to keep fighting for state. State, state, state.”
They say it's an honor to play Moapa Valley again because those games are competitive and gives Desert Pines another chance to show they are the best. And when some teams shy away from having to travel to cold-weather Northern Nevada in the state semifinals, Desert Pines embraces the trip. It’s a low-income school without the resources to attend summer camp, meaning an all-expense trip to the Reno area — night in a hotel, charter bus, hot meals — enhances the high school experience.
“We have a really strong culture on this team,” Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez said. “We have great kids. They are resilient.”
That bond could be what pushes Desert Pines over the top.
When Smith, a defensive lineman who is Nevada’s top recruit for 2016, tore his ACL six days before the opener against Arbor View, players quickly dedicated the season to him. Captains carried his jersey to midfield for the coin toss and he attended the game just hours after knee surgery.
So, when someone new to the program is ruled ineligible and costs them two games in the standings, it seems natural that player would be an outsider and disliked. Just not at Desert Pines.
Desert Pines officials let him play in two games during September after receiving transfer papers from the NIAA with an approval stamp they thought cleared him to participate. However, the approval was for the transfer only, and not his academic eligibility. The player had less than a 2.0 grade point average last spring and was only allowed to make up one class in the summer to make him ineligible.
Desert Pines tried to appeal to the NIAA, but it was denied. The misunderstanding could change the course of the season for a team that was in the driver’s seat to win the state championship.
But talk with players and they say the situation makes them more determined on the “Unfinished Business” tour.
“With the senior leaders, we have a strong locker room,” Rodriguez said. “They told him, ‘You’re one of us now.’”
Nofoa added, “We got a new brother in our family. That’s a good thing.”