On a summer day in 1993, Mike Rippee walked across the football field at Reed High School as he prepared to coach in the Sertoma Classic All-Star football game. Suddenly, he smiled when the subject of playoffs came up.
"I got to go to the playoffs last year, but they made me sit up there," the Douglas High School football coach said, motioning toward the top of the bleachers.
Not anymore. Not only will Rippee be on the sidelines for the opening round of the Northern 4A playoffs tonight, the Tigers will host their first Northern 4A postseason game when the Galena Grizzlies come to Minden. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Keith Roman Field.
Douglas (7-2) earned the home field berth by virtue of its second-place finish in the Sierra League. Galena (6-3) is the third-place representative from the High Desert League.
Douglas only has limited experience since moving into Nevada's large schools division in 1979,. In fact, Rippee had to wait 11 years as a head coach before the the Tigers made the playoffs for the first time in 1996. They have advanced to the postseason six of the last seven seasons, but only have a 1-5 record in those playoff games.
And yes, this is the first postseason football game at home for Douglas since 1974, when the Tigers defeated Fallon to capture the state 2A championship.
History aside, however, Douglas will try to get past a formidable Galena squad in what promises to be a good game. The Tigers and Grizzlies met in August during a scrimmage at Galena, and the playoff implications were clear even then.
"We knew there would be a chance we'd see each other again in the playoffs," Rippee said. "This is going to be a good one. We've come off two emotional weeks of playing football and we're going to have to ask the kids to get up for a third one. We'd better be ready to play good old fashioned football, too, because they pride themselves in playing hard-nosed, aggressive football on both sides of the ball."
Likewise, Galena is looking forward to a good game.
"I think this is going to be one of the best games around," said Sakelaris, whose Grizzlies won at Hug in the first round of the Northern 4A playoffs last year. "Our kids are very excited to still be playing. We want to come out and play hard, and hopefully, we'll be one of the four teams still playing next week."
The Grizzlies are led by their "Yellow Brick Wall" defense, a unit that has allowed an average of 240.2 yards of total offense and 126 points in nine games, totals that rank among the top four in the Northern 4A region.
"They're a quality, quality football team," Rippee said of the Grizzlies. "We've watched a lot of film on them and their defense is well above average, one of the better defenses in the entire league. They go into a football game and they're going to line up toe-to-toe and say, 'Let's see what you can do against us,' so hopefully our offense can get us some points."
Both teams feature balanced offenses.
Douglas is led by quarterback Luke Rippee, who has 1,132 yards passing on the season and running back Evan Bill with 1,025 yards rushing. Andy McIntosh ranks No. 1 among Northern 4A receivers in yardage with 32 catches for 635 yards.
Galena is led by Pat Flynn, a two-year starter at quarterback, has thrown for 635 yards (46-for-131). His favorite target has been senior running back Warren Whitley, a breakaway threat who has 16 receptions for 298 yards (18.6-yard average). Power-running fullback Brandon Hendrix leads a balanced running attack with 390 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, Whitley has 305 yards and Hunter Mulhall has 266 yards.
"Offensively, they're tough and hard-nosed," Rippee said. "They're not real fancy offensively, but they will hit you and that's what the game is all about."
Sakelaris believes the key to the game, at least for the Grizzlies, will be the line of scrimmage.
"We need to be able to control the line of scrimmage on offense and defense. The games where we've done that, we've been successful," he said. "It's going to be tough because those guys are solid, top to bottom, both on offense and defense. They have two losses, both to undefeated teams (McQueen and Reno)."