It's opening night and the Carson High School football team has a score to settle.
Three of them, actually, because the Senators open their season against McQueen in a 7:30 p.m. contest at John Robb Stadium, the same place where their season has ended with playoff losses each of the last three years.
The Senators aren't alone since McQueen has played in the 4A state championship game each of the last four years and won twice, in 2000 and 2002. Quilling saw his first season as Carson's head coach in 2000 end with a 49-7 loss in the opening round of the playoffs at McQueen. The same two teams met in the first round of the playoffs in 2001, a game McQueen won 28-6. And last year, McQueen defeated Carson 49-0 to open a playoff run that culminated in a state championship.
"They've proved the last 8, 10, 12 years they're the program in the state of Nevada," Quilling said. "They don't win it every year, but they're solid."
The Senators have had to overcome a long line of injuries during the preseason. Among the casualties, senior offensive guard Cameron Leck went to the hospital this week with what has been diagnosed as a case of viral meningitis. Senior Nick Shine, a third-year varsity linebacker/tight end, sustained an ankle injury in Carson's scrimmage against Spanish Springs last Friday night, and is listed as questionable for tonight.
"It looks like he's all right going forward, but we don't know about the lateral yet," Quilling said. "It will probably be a game time decision, to see how he does warming up."
There is some good news.
A hand injury sustained by Tsuyoshi Curtis earlier this week was not as serious as originally believed and the senior is expected to be available to start at cornerback. Curtis is also expected to see action on offense as a wide receiver and running back.
Sophomore kicker Matt Mitchell, senior long snapper Jake Oxoby, junior running back Austin Watson and junior lineman John Gradert have also recovered from injuries and are expected to play.
The Senators are looking forward to getting after the Lancers. And they want to do it right from the opening kickoff.
"I think we can move the ball if we come out and execute, but that's been the problem for a lot of people going up to McQueen. They just don't believe it can happen," Quilling said. "They don't believe that they can do it, then they come out, fall behind by a couple of touchdowns and the game's over.
"So the key thing we've been talking about all week is, we've got to win the first quarter. We've got to come out and be competitive right away. The key up there is you have to get after them in the first quarter and after that, anything can happen."
The Senators well remember last year's playoff defeat when McQueen needed to run just six plays to score three touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. On the opening series, the Lancers blocked a punt to take over at the 15, and they cashed in with a touchdown four plays later. Quarterback Zach Borba threw 60-yard TD passes on first play of next two possessions to make it 21-0.
"We need to execute on special teams," Quilling said. "We've given up 28 points the last two years on punt team, bad snaps, blocked punts,missing the ball in the rain and the wind, whatever. You just can't start the game giving up a bunch of points on special teams."
The Lancers were more than solid last year on their way to a 14-0 record and state championship. They outscored those 14 opponents by a combined 678-35 score, including a 38-7 triumph over Desert Pines in the state title game in Las Vegas.
But this is a brand new year, and the Lancers come in with 22 brand new starters on both sides of the ball.
"They're not like last year where you really didn't have a chance. They actually look human on film," Quilling said.
At the same time, the Lancers return a nucleus of seniors who, even though they were reserves last year, saw extensive playing time because of all the lopsided scores. Among those is Dustin Rosness, now the team's starting quarterback, who scored on a 39-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Carson in last year's playoff game.
"They've got 35 seniors just because of the dominant program they've had. As far as not having a lot of experience, I don't really feel sorry for them, and I don't think anybody else does, either.
"And hey, we've got a good senior class that's as good as anybody and we're looking forward to getting after it."