Douglas football reunion

The fall of 1974 was truly a special time in the Carson Valley.

What transpired was a magical football season in which Douglas High School went 8-1-1 and won Nevada's 2A state championship. It's the only state football championship the Minden school has ever won.

Memories from that season will be recalled tonight when members of that championship team are introduced during halftime of the Tigers' season home opener against Elko. The halftime show will be just part of a weekend-long reunion.

"It's going to be great," said Russ Burnum, who is coordinating the reunion festivities. "Everybody is looking forward to this. Some of us haven't seen each other since our graduation day of high school.

"Friday morning, 10 or 12 of us are going to get together to play golf. We're going to get together for a tailgate party before the game. We'll be introduced at halftime and the school is going to dedicate a sign to the team."

And on Saturday, the team plans to get together to watch the old game films from '74. It's safe to say there will be plenty of good memories.

"I think it was one of those special things that happens every so often in a small community. It was a high school kid's dream," said Jacques Etchegoyhen, the team's offensive center and now a Douglas County Commissioner.

"When I watch the movie 'Hoosiers,' I think of that football team because at the time, we were one of the smallest schools in the Double-A in terms of enrollment (just over 300 students)."

Nevada has a more extensive football playoff system in place today. At that time, however, first-place in the Northern 2A conference regular season usually took home the state championship. A championship game was only needed if playoff criteria was met by Boulder City, then the only 2A school in the southern part of the state.

Bill Coverley, the head football coach at Douglas between 1971 and '84, had fond memories of the old Northern 2A conference.

"The old Double-A was the greatest conference the state has ever had," Coverley said in a 1994 interview. "There were always six teams you knew might win the whole thing. That was the beauty of the Double-A. Those schools were always good, year-in and year-out. You were always going into towns that had a lot of pride in their school and community, as we did ours. That was a lot of fun."

The magical season began with a 32-15 win against Hug in Reno on Aug. 30.

"When we beat a good Triple-A team up there, we kind of realized, hey, this could be an interesting year," Etchegoyhen said.

That night, Burnum ran for two touchdowns and averaged 9.3 yards per carry. The Tigers had many weapons, but the go-to player in the Wishbone offense was Burnum, a 5-foot-8, 140-pound senior who rushed for 1,407 yards and scored 27 touchdowns that season.

Next came a 48-8 blowout of highly-touted Elko on Sept. 6. The story was similar a week later when the Tigers opened at home and got their revenge against defending 2A champion Yerington with a 50-0 shutout at Fred H. Dressler Field (now Carson Valley Middle School). Quarterback Tim Roberts rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns, Stan Sarman scored on a 37-yard run and Todd Wilcks caught a 25-yard scoring pass.

The Tigers finally stumbled with an 8-8 tie in their Sept. 21 game against Bishop Manogue in Reno. Roberts scored on a four-yard run and passed to sophomore Russ Wheaton for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead that stood until Manogue came back to salvage the tie with 2:29 remaining.

On Sept. 27, the Tigers rolled past White Pine, 36-6. The next Friday, Burnum only had three carries, but scored on runs of 41, 43 and 56 yards in the Tigers' 64-6 win against Hawthorne.

Then came homecoming and the team's only loss of the year: 22-8 against Lowry. With a tie and loss on their record, Douglas needed help in order to catch undefeated Fallon in the standings. Even after their 49-0 win against Stewart on Oct. 25, the Tigers were in a position where they needed to beat Boulder City, while Fallon had to lose its game at Elko.

Everything fell into place when Burnum scored five touchdowns and the Tigers romped to a 51-0 win at home against Boulder City. Then, within the hour, news arrived by sheriff's office dispatch that Elko had beaten Fallon, 20-6.

That set the stage for the Nov. 1 regular season-ending showdown between Fallon and Douglas in Gardnerville. Fans from all around Northern Nevada filled the stands and lined the field that night.

"The place was packed. There was no place to park, no place to stand. The town was certainly abuzz that night," Etchegoyhen said.

"It was quite a grudge match. I remember every newspaper in Reno was picking Fallon to win it. They had two very good players and, as I remember, they were very large. I played center at about 5-9, 170, and I'd say the guy playing across from me was 6-2, 6-3 and about 220 pounds. That was pretty standard across the line."

A constant rain the night before and the morning of the game left Dressler Field wet and muddy, an ominous sight for the Tigers, who relied more on speed as opposed to Fallon's size. To counter the weather, Coverley asked for help from Red Roberts at Harvey's James Canyon Ranch, who hovered over the field in the ranch helicopter for a couple of hours to help dry out the turf.

As it turned out, the game was a classic defensive struggle.

"Man, it was a great game," Coverley said. "It was one of those games where we controlled the ball, we had a ton of yards, but we couldn't get the ball across the goal line."

An interception by Phil Fingar set up the Tigers at Fallon's 37 late in the second quarter. Seven plays later - less than 50 seconds before halftime - Roberts scored on a quarterback sneak. The conversion failed and the Tigers took their 6-0 lead to the locker room. As for the second half, the memories of this game invariably get around to the goal line stand Douglas threw up in the fourth quarter.

The Greenwave rolled to the 4 before the Douglas defense rallied. Two runs went nowhere, then an option play was thrown for a 10-yard loss. On fourth down, the threat died when Wheaton broke up a flare pass intended for star running back Dave Granille out of bounds at the 12.

"You've got to remember, the field was nothing but a mud bath, and on fourth down, they threw a little pass to their best player," said Keith Roman, an assistant coach at Douglas coach for more than 30 years (the school's football field is now named for him). "We knew if he (Granille) caught the ball, he could put a move on and we would lose the game, 7-6. Fortunately, it didn't happen that way."

And the Douglas Tigers were celebrating their first and only state football championship.

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