Alonzo Hatchett has watched these young football players grow and grow. And now, barring any major surprises, he figures the Douglas Tigers Midget Pop Warner squad is in position to reach out toward its highest ambitions.
"When we started out this year, our original goal was to get to the Snow Bowl," said Hatchett, head coach of the Douglas Midgets. "The way these kids have played, and they're improving every day of the week, we've broadened our sights."
Having finished off a perfect 7-0 regular season and won their playoff opener against the Carson Silver, 38-0, Friday night at Stodick Park in Gardnerville, the Tigers are now set to play in the Snow Bowl Sagebrush Empire League championship game next Friday in Sparks.
Friday's shutout was the sixth this season for the Tigers, who have allowed only 24 points in seven games. Of that total, all but six came last weekend when the Tigers defeated the Sparks Cardinals 20-18 in a thriller at Stodick Park.
"That was an awesome game," Hatchett said. "Both teams went back and forth all night."
The Cardinals scored first to take a 6-0 lead, but the Tigers answered with a 55-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Reese Kizer to Tyler Tinstman. Jesse Chiri's 2-point PAT kick gave Douglas an 8-6 lead and proved to be the difference in the game.
The Douglas defense held the Cardinals scoreless in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory and hand the Cardinals only their second loss of the season.
"Our defense held them and then our offense was able to control the ball and run out the clock," Hatchett said.
The defense is led by linemen Garrett Kolbe, Brent Koontz and Cody Whalin; linebackers Anthony Wedlock, Matt Cummiford and Ryan Pruitt; cornerbacks Samuel Simmons and free safety Nick Phillips. Wedlock and Simmons have both returned interceptions for touchdowns this season.
"We have a swarming defense," Hatchett said. "They're a bunch of kids who have a nose for the ball."
Offensively, the Tigers operate from multiple sets and with a lot of weapons.
"All five of our backs have scored this season," Hatchett said.
Kizer is the quarterback, Tinstman plays halfback, Sean Molina plays fullback, Phillip Mannelly plays in the slot and Jordan Hatchett and Joseph Ayouso share time at wideout.
Don't forget the offensive line, a group that includes Landon Whitcomb at center, Kevin Rogers and Paul Tolman at the guards, Nicholas Ceglia and Ben Smith at the tackles and tight end Steve Passalacqua. Bill Pierz, who has recovered from a broken foot he sustained early in the season, and Brandon Melvin bring additional depth to that group.
"That offensive line deserves a lot of accolades," Hatchett said. "They've done an awesome job and they keep improving every week."
Depth is another key factor for a Douglas squad that suits up 33 players.
"With 33 kids, we look like a high school team coming out there," Hatchett said. "We have a lot of depth. And these kids are experienced. I've coached most of them since they were 8, and now, they are 13-, 14- and 15 year-olds."
And yes, the Tigers have definitely broadened their expectations. The victor of the Snow Bowl championship game next Friday night at Don Mello Sports Complex in Sparks will advance to the Pop Warner Western Regionals later this month in Santa Clara, Calif. After that comes the Pop Warner national finals in Florida.
"We still have to take it one game at a time, but our goal now is to go to Santa Clara and then we want to go to Florida," Hatchett said. "I think we have the ability to do it, if we put our minds to it. These kids play with so much heart, I honestly believe we can get there."