Frank de Braga remembers that state playoff game as if it happened yesterday.
Down by four with time expiring, the Greenwave football team was on the verge of recording one of the biggest upsets in Silver State history. Truckee converted two fourth-down plays to take the lead late in the game but Fallon benefited from a solid kick return. Shawntrell Hubbard’s hook-and-ladder was followed by a late-hit penalty, setting the stage for Fallon.
First down on the 11-yard line. No time. One last play.
Quarterback Morgan Dirickson heaved the ball on the final play, skimming off de Braga’s fingertips in the end zone as Truckee’s notorious defense preserved the 28-24 win in 2011.
“I still lose sleep about our playoff loss to him in the state semifinal game in 2011, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t want to lose to anybody else,” said de Braga, who was a senior defensive back and captain on that team.
That him — the man behind Truckee’s success since taking over the program in the 1990s — was Bob Shaffer, who led the team to a 170-32 record, nine state titles and 14 league championships. The NIAA Hall of Fame coach orchestrated four-straight state titles before retiring prior to the 2013 season. Shaffer, whose teams were known for their ferocity and tenacity on defense, was killed in a head-on collision Saturday night in California.
“I immediately thought of the family. What a great coach he was,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “He was a pillar of that community, really, to do the things that he did. That’s the team that really was pushing us. They were the top dog for the next three years in the league (after Fallon joined the 3A).”
Shaffer’s Wolverines could rival some of the 4A during the latter part of his career. They dominated the 3A during the four-state title run, including 41-straight wins before Fernley snapped the streak in 2012. Fallon had a chance to snap the streak, but fell short.
“He was such a pillar there, such a cornerstone,” said Fallon track coach Paul Orong, who met Shaffer while coaching for Fernley 20 years ago.
But while Shaffer had his teams ready to play every week and showed no mercy, he was a man of grace and dignity. He didn’t rub in any of those victories but instead, he commended his opponent.
“Just how gracious he was in victory,” Hill recalled of his fondest memory of Shaffer. “And how complementary he was of us when they were really putting it to everybody and us. After he was done and we were having some success against Truckee, he was still complementary. He was a great guy to be around. It’s a very sad thing for the Truckee program, Truckee community and for us coaches who knew him and the 3A as well.”
Everyone wanted to be like Truckee. Like Wooster in the 4A 20 years ago and McQueen last decade, the Wolverines were always the team to beat — and emulate.
“We were the new kid on the block. We weren’t good enough to take down the big dog,” Hill said. “That is a rare thing. To be able to be so consistent for as long as he was and get kids to buy in and the tradition, it’s what all coaches would love to achieve. That’s definitely something when we came in this league. There are some things we emulated of theirs because they were so good. We wanted to be them.”
Truckee lost a mainstay in the community who brought the small California town together on Saturdays in the fall. The Wolverine faithful chose to watch Shaffer lead these young men on the battlefield instead of coming into Reno to watch collegiate football. Shaffer and his teams were more important to them.
But while the longtime coach was loved and adored by his community, he had the same effect on Fallon.
De Braga was fortunate to have Shaffer coach him during the Sertoma all-star game in 2012 when high school seniors from Northern Nevada and California converged for one week of practice in the summer before playing under the lights for one final time.
“When I found out I was chosen for Sertoma, I was ecstatic to know coach Shaffer had selected Fallon for his team,” said de Braga, who was the only Greenwave playing in the game. “I remember practicing with him and his staff, and while we were the one team to almost break their streak, he was nothing but respectful and boasted about Fallon all the time.”
It was the pregame speech for the Sertoma game that resonated the most for de Braga and spoke true for any small school.
“He spoke about how he chose the smaller schools to be a part of his team because we deserved to take the field with the bigger more pronounced teams, such as Reed, and that speech will live with me forever,” de Braga said.
Shaffer was a coach, mentor and family man to many in the region. His son even quarterbacked the team that knocked off Fallon in the 2011 semifinal game.
While the region mourns the loss of Shaffer, his legacy — both on and off the field — will stand forever. It will carry on through the Wolverine players and coaches every fall as they try to win another championship for Shaffer and the Truckee community.