Las Vegas Sun

November 17, 2018

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

Moapa Valley, Truckee share respect for each other, legendary coach

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Wade Vandervort

Moapa Valley Coach Brent Lewis huddles with his team during a Green Valley vs Moapa Valley game at Green Valley High School, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.

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It was typical Truckee High School football weather, just in early May.

The persistent rains eventually turned into light snow and temperatures seemed to get cooler by the hour, bringing fond memories of Friday nights to the Wolverine fans at the stadium. They gathered to honor the man who built Truckee into a 3A power.

Robert Shaffer, the program’s beloved coach for nearly two decades through 2013, had unexpectedly died in a car crash a few weeks earlier.

In the long line of well-wishers paying their respects that spring day in 2017 — everyone from former players to community members — Brent Lewis could have felt out of place.

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Landon Willard walks slowly off the field as Truckee celebrates their Division IA title victory over Moapa at Fertitta Field on Saturday night.

Lewis, after all, is the coach of one of Truckee’s biggest rivals — Moapa Valley of Overton. The two storied programs seemed to always meet in the state playoffs, with the games mostly closely contested. They face off again at 1 p.m. Saturday in the state semifinals at Moapa Valley.

Under Shaffer, Truckee won nine state championship and 170 games, including 41 consecutive victories from 2008 to 2012. Many times, Truckee and Moapa Valley were the last teams standing, as they tangled five consecutive years in the title game.

“When you take it on the chin so many times, you develop a respect and admiration for someone,” Lewis said. “They certainly had our number.”

Turns out that respect is mutual.

The Truckee faithful were amazed that Lewis drove eight hours each way to the Northern Nevada-California border to be part of the memorial. Players expressed their gratitude, and Lewis said broadcaster Keith Thomas invited him into the press box and treated him “like a VIP from the second I arrived.”

“After the ceremony, coach Lewis met with the family and then turned around and drove back to Moapa Valley,” Thomas, wrote in an email to the Sun. “Incredible.”

It’s moments like those that serve as a reminder of what makes high school football special, especially in small towns where the varsity team’s success can lift a town’s spirits.

The games are only a small portion of the journey for many coaches. For lifers like Shaffer and Lewis, football is a year-round calling.

Lewis has won three state championships and more than 150 games at Moapa Valley, a school he quarterbacked in the 1980s. He can talk for hours about the legendary games the Pirates have been part of, those battles against Virgin Valley or recently against Desert Pines, and takes pride in knowing there have been more wins than losses.

When it comes to the playoffs against Truckee, though, Lewis knows that wasn’t always the case. Shaffer’s teams seemed to always be prepared. And they had “some studs,” Lewis said.

“We certainly have a large respect for each other,” Lewis said. “Both of our programs were super successful in the same way.”

Shaffer was killed when a driver crossed the center line and crashed into the vehicle he was driving, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Shaffer turned at the last moment, saving his wife and son, who also were in the car, and taking the brunt of the crash directly in the driver’s side door, Thomas said.

Saturday’s semifinal will be the first meeting between the schools since 2012. It will be Truckee’s first appearance at Moapa Valley since 1999, because championship games are mostly played at neutral sites.

This game will surely feel like one contested in the early 2010s. Both teams are of high quality and the winner is expected to be the state champion. And no matter how heated the game gets on the field, and it will, the teams will come together at midfield afterward to shake hands.

That respect is what these great programs pride themselves on. That respect is what compels one coach to drive across the state to honor another.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21