When practice began back in August, it was no secret that the Yerington High School football team was going to be in for an extremely challenging season.
First-year head coach Cody Neville inherited a program that had lost heavily to graduation just two months before and came into the new season with a 22-player roster. Furthermore, the Lions faced the prospect of playing in a Northern 3A conference that had been reloaded by realignment.
Loaded would be a more accurate description because, top to bottom, the Northern 3A was quite possibly the most competitive football conference in Nevada this fall. Yerington's schedule was a virtual lineup of programs loaded with tradition - Fernley, Bishop Manogue, North Tahoe, Tahoe-Truckee and Spring Creek - plus the addition of Lowry from the Northern 4A.
The Lions went on to a 1-8 season, but you would never have known it by talking to Neville this week. Quite the contrary, he described this as a successful season.
"When you're not winning a lot of games, it's always easy to pack in and just give up. But to the credit of the kids we were fortunate enough to have, the word quit never came up," Neville said. "Like anybody else, I hold winning high on my list of priorities, but this (season) taught taught me a lot. We may not have had a lot of wins, but we had a great season and I feel we had a great football team."
Even after the Lions posted a season-opening 32-0 victory at Incline on Sept. 1, it really came as no surprise they went on to lose their next eight games. What did come as a surprise was the way the Lions seemed to gain momentum as the season progressed.
"We scared the hell out of some teams," Neville said. "These kids always put their best foot forward. They never admitted they were tired or fatigued and it was very fulfilling to see that."
Yerington lost 32-6 to Fernley in week two, but it was a 14-6 game at halftime and the Lions had a drive stall on a penalty inside the 20 shortly before halftime. The Lions lost 34-14 in week five, but they led early and had another drive before halftime die on an interception in the end zone. And in week eight, eventual state runner-up Spring Creek won 31-7, but needed a last-second touchdown before halftime before taking the lead for good.
By this time, the Lions had begun to gain more and more support from all around the Mason Valley.
"We had more support toward end of season," Neville said. "The parents put on big dinners just to show how much they respected the program and the players. People were real excited because they saw a school of 450 competing against schools of 1,000-plus."
In fact, the Lions came into their season-ending game at home against Lyon County rival Dayton not only expecting to be competitive but expecting to win the game. They came close, only to end up on the short end of a 22-21 score in overtime - after the Dust Devils converted a fake PAT kick into a two-point conversion.
On Nov. 9, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Board of Control heard a petition from Yerington to move from the 3A (schools with enrollments of 461 to 1,200) into the 2A (170 to 460) during the 2001-2002 school year. The appeal was denied, which means the Lions will have to play at least one more season in the 3A before the NIAA realigns again. As of September, Yerington's enrollment was 457.
One suggested option for the 2001 football has been for Yerington to drop out of the Northern 3A and play an independent schedule. Neville pretty much dismissed that idea this week.
"We're very skeptical about that," Neville said. "I think we're going to go ahead (in the 3A) and hope the numbers work out in our favor the year after."
The Lions are already at work preparing for their next season.
" We want them to feel some success and rewards for commitment they've given us," Neville said. "We have 15 football players already in the weight room. That's the type of commitment they've given me and I want to do the best I can to put them in the best situation possible."
And nobody can take away the success the Lions experienced during their 2000 season.