Dust Devils look to make playoff run in ’03
DAYTON — Last season ended with some bittersweet feelings for Dayton. Sweet in the sense that the Dust Devils posted a 4-5 overall record that equaled the school record for most wins. Bitter in the sense that they were one win away from getting to the postseason.
The Dust Devils come into their season full of optimism that they can improve and take that step up to reach the playoffs.
“The kids are going to do well,” said Rick Walker, who is entering his second season as Dayton’s coach. “Shoot for the playoffs is a big thing this year, not just a school record. We want to get to the playoffs.”
While six teams qualify for the Northern 3A playoffs this season, only the top four made it last year.
“We had a couple of shots last year. Lowry and Spring Creek; if we’d won both of those games, we’d have been right there,” Walker said. “We just didn’t quite get it done, it came down to the last play of the game. They’ve heard about it. They know it.”
The Dust Devils fell into an early hole in the Northern 3A playoff race when they lost at home to Lowry and Spring Creek — games that were decided by 28-21 scores. Spring Creek scored with two seconds remaining to beat the Dust Devils.
Tim Torres hopes to atone for the heart break this fall.
“I’m excited. We all have a lot of goals,” said Torres, a senior who plays right guard on offense and middle linebacker on defense. “Playoffs, that’s what everybody wants. The whole team is focused.”
The 2003 season was one full of close calls for the Dust Devils (3-5 Northern 3A), who posted conference victories against Rite of Passage, North Tahoe and Yerington that were decided by a combined total of 18 points. The Dust Devils knocked Yerington out of playoff contention with a 20-16 regular-season ending win on Nov. 1.
Dayton will put a new look on the field this season, a smaller team that will try to capitalize on overall speed.
“We’re putting in a new offense this year and the kids seem to be adjusting well,” said Walker, who has installed a variation of the Wing-T.
Quarterback Jake Deen graduated after a senior season in which he passed for 1,063 yards. The good news is that the Dust Devils return the explosive 1-2 combo of Justin Cross, who rushed for 1,069 yards, and Dylan Morris, who caught 29 passes for 468 yards to go with 11 touchdowns receiving and rushing last year.
“I’m excited about our speed,” Walker said. “We don’t have Deen, that 6-4 guy back there throwing the ball now, but as a team, we’re a lot quicker and we want to utilize that the best we can.”
To show why Cross was the team’s Offensive MVP last season, he rushed for 175 yards on 31 carries in Dayton’s win over Yerington, ran for 172 yards on 29 carries in an 18-7 loss to Fernley, plus he ran for 164 yards and two TDs on 22 carries in a 35-29 win against North Tahoe. And he has only gotten better.
“He carried the ball 25 times a game last year and I think he wore down in some of the games,” Walker said of Cross. “Now, he’s put on 10 to 15 pounds and gotten stronger, and the big difference, he has increased his speed. He didn’t have breakaway speed last year, but he’s increased his speed and I think he’s going going to be able to break a few all the way.”
Morris, the team MVP last year, was more than an offensive threat for the Dust Devils because he received first-team all-conference honors at defensive back. He had five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
“Dylan is a huge threat,” Walker said of Morris. “You always have to respect him because he can take it all the way from anywhere on the field.”
Steve Novello, coming off a strong track season, returns to give Dayton a threat at wide receiver. Casey Skog returns and is expected to split time between tight end, fullback and free safety on defense (he had a key interception in the Yerington game).
Another senior returnee is kicker Trent Wood, who was successful on four of five field goal attempts last year, according to Walker.
The Dust Devils also expect to receive help from a group of juniors who played for a successful J.V. team last year. Among those is Zane Walker, who has stepped in to replace Deen at quarterback, and Dan Hopper, who will play tight end and backup quarterback.
“I’m real happy with what we’re doing,” coach Walker said. “We had a real good turnout this summer in weights and we had a good showing at the Nevada Union defensive camp in Carson City. The kids who’ve been showing up have been really dedicated they’ve worked hard.”
Torres echoed that.
“We should be pretty good. The weight room was packed all all summer, everybody busted their butts,” said Torres, who increased his own squat best from 325 to 430 pounds since last year. “We were so close to making the playoffs last year. We remember that. All summer, the seniors kept reminding everyone about Lowry and Spring Creek.”