Conor Martin will have a huge target attached to his back when Reno High (6-5) visits undefeated Douglas (11-0) tonight at 7 in the NIAA 4A zone football finals.
The winner of tonight's game gets Northern Nevada's only spot in the upcoming state playoffs on Nov. 29 at 1 p.m. against the loser of the Desert Pines-Las Vegas game.
"Either one (South Tahoe or Reno) wouldn't have been a surprise," Douglas coach Mike Rippee said. "Both are similiar in many ways. Reno is playing with a lot of confidence right now. They're not supposed to win and have nothing to lose. They are a quality football team."
The 170-pound Martin, a transfer from Southern California, gained 104 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against the Tigers earlier this year. Martin helped the Huskies to a 14-all halftime tie, only to see Douglas rip off 20 unanswered second-half points for a 34-14 victory.
Rippee has been preparing his defensive unit, led by senior linebacker Jake Peterson, senior defensive ends Stormy Herald and Nick Summers, senior defensive backs Luke Rippee, Tommy Welton and Eddie Shope, for what he expects to be a big dose of Martin, who carried 38 times for 243 yards last week in the Huskies' 21-14 win over South Tahoe.
"He carried nearly 40 times, and he's not that big of a guy, so that's a big workload," Rippee said. "Reno runs an unbalanced line at times, and he'll (Martin) go outside or inside."
Most of Reno's success against Douglas (in the first game) came in the first half when the Huskies averaged 3.8 yards on each first-down attempt, and literally rammed the ball down Douglas' collective throats. The Huskies were so successful on first down, they didn't need to throw the ball hardly ever. Douglas' offense only snapped the ball 16 times in the first 24 minutes
"For any running team, first down is the most important play," Rippee said. "As a defense you don't want to face a second-and-five or second-and three. They were controlling the football against us that first half."
That's the best way to beat a high-scoring offense like Douglas is to control the ball and keep the offense on the sidelines.
Douglas shut down Reno in the second half, holding the Huskies to 11 yards total offense and only 1.6 per first-down play, and Rippee hopes that his defense plays like that the entire way on Friday.
Quarterback John Wallace completed five of 18 passes for 31 yards and three interceptions in the first meeting. Rippee said he's much better than those stats indicate.
"Wallace can throw the ball, but he hasn't had to that much," Rippee said. "He didn't throw much against Tahoe, but weather probably dictated that. Against Wooster, he threw the ball quite a bit."
Wallace's favorite targets are Proctor Hug and tight end Wes Evans. Evans had two catches for 16 yards, and Hug had three grabs for 21 yards. Ryan Quinlan carried 13 times for 51 yards in the first meeting.
Coach Rippee may get junior linebacker Kyle Luken (broken fibula) back this week. Luken, who has missed the Tigers' first two playoff games, was scheduled to see a doctor yesterday (Tuesday).
"We'll see what the doctor says," Rippee said. "Kyle says he feels a lot better. I know he has the heart to do it. That would certainly make us stronger.
"Andy (McIntosh) started there for two years. When Andy hurt his quad, Kyle stepped in and has had one heck of a year. It's made us stronger because Andy is able to play just offense. Andy is a team guy. I know he wanted to play defense this year, but he's never complained."
McIntosh has stepped in the last two-plus games for Luken and played well. If Luken is cleared, both could end up sharing the spot.
"We'll go with whoever is doing the best job," Rippee said. "We'll be evaluating them."
Ever since the regular season ended, Rippee has stressed more than once that defense will have to be top notch for the Tigers to keep advancing in the playoffs, and that unit has taken his word to heart.
Welton had an interception and fumble recovery last week, as the Tigers held Hug to approximately 180 yards.
The offense is still averaging more than 300 yards a game, and Luke Rippee has done a tremendous job throwing and running the ball. He ran for two scores and passed for 190 yards and a score against the Huskies earlier this year.
Dusty Cooper continued his stellar play, eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the ninth time in 11 games thanks to the efforts of interior linemen Austin Glenn, Johnson Riggs, Garrett Hostetler, Paul Mannelly and David Silvestro.