Carson eyes regional title tonight |

Carson eyes regional title tonight

Darrell Moody

RENO – It will be old against new when McQueen and Carson, both 10-game winners, battle for the NIAA 4A regional football championship today (7 p.m.) at Damonte Ranch High School.

The Lancers have won 11 regional football titles since 1990, including eight of the last 10, while this is Carson’s first trip to the regional finals since 1987. The Senators are the new kid on the block, and they would like nothing more than to reach the state semifinals.

Carson players won’t let past history faze them, and McQueen coach Jim Snelling doesn’t believe it’s an advantage for his team.

“I look at every year as a new year,” Snelling said Thursday afternoon prior to practice. “Both teams played really well this year, and both are very deserving to be in the game. It’s exciting for both teams.

“Every team has its own identity. I think Carson and ourselves are mirror images of each other.”

Consider the following:

• Both teams have standout running backs. McQueen’s Nick Shepherd has rushed for 1,319 yards and 16 scores in 9.5 games, while Carson’s Dylan Sawyers has rushed for 1,241 yards and 14 scores in seven games. They are arguably the best running backs in Northern 4A football.

• Both teams have been stingy when it comes to allowing points. McQueen allows 11 a game and Carson gives up 14.

• Both teams boast impressive offenses. McQueen averages 360 yards a game, while Carson averages 372. McQueen averages 32 points per game and Carson averages 33.

This will be another challenge for the Carson defense, which is coming off its best game of the season, a 20-0 shutout of Reed. Snelling admitted that he was a little surprised by the shutout.

“Reed has a very potent offense,” Snelling said. “They’ve had our number and Carson has had their (Reed’s) number. A lot of it comes down to match-ups. They are like us, they play with a lot of emotion. I think they are definitely a little faster in the defensive backfield.”

McQueen is definitely a run-first team, though Snelling said he strives for balance. The McQueen coach said that the Lancers are probably 70 percent run and 30 percent pass. Of course when you have a back like Shepherd, why not keep the ball on the ground.

“Up front they are not extremely huge, but they get off the ball,” Carson coach Blair Roman said. “To some extent they are like Douglas. They give you a lot of different looks.”

Jim Franz, Carson’s defensive coordinator, is impressed with Shepherd.

“He doesn’t remind me of anybody in particular,” Franz said. “He’s just a good back. He keeps his feet and runs hard.”

McQueen’s Arnold Carrillo scored four times last week against Manogue, and is the No. 2 option in the backfield. QB Christian Stolo doesn’t throw a whole lot, but completes 59 percent of his throws.

No doubt Carson would love to force the Lancers into passing situations on second and third down, and the way to do that is being stout on first down. The Senators need to hold the Lancers to three or less yards on first down.

For the Senators, Chris Steele will step back in at outside linebacker to replace Austin Pacheco, who suffered a leg injury last week against Reed and is out for the remainder of the playoffs.

“Fortunately we have a lot of depth at linebacker,” Roman said. “Chris will do fine. I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Just as Carson will focus a lot of attention on Shepherd, the Lancers’ defense will key on Sawyers, who gained 189 yards last week and scored twice.

Snelling said the best way to stop Sawyers is to keep the ball out of his hands. Translation? Except the Lancers to attempt to control the ball with a solid run game.

If McQueen does keep Sawyers in check, which is hard to do for a full game, Carson has other weapons in quarterback Trey Jensen and running backs Connor Beattie and Jon Parker. They picked up the slack in Sawyers’ absence.

Roman stressed the importance of playing well in all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams.

The special teams took a hit when the Senators lost Pacheco, who kicked and punted. Brock Pradere takes over for PATs, field goals and kickoffs. Pradere filled in for Pacheco earlier this year and kicked five PATs and averaged nearly 50 yards per kickoff. He hasn’t attempted a field goal in a regular game, so it’s hard to figure what his range might be.

“We won’t have the range we’ve enjoyed on field goals,” Roman admitted. “We just have to adjust. One thing I told the kids is that when somebody has gone down that everybody else has to step up.”