It is a good thing the Division I-A North altered its region tournament format this year. It offered Elko and Lowry an opportunity for a third matchup.
The two schools last year met for a third time in the state championship game, and even though both are back in the state tournament, it will take just short of an act of God for both to advance to Saturday night's final.
The odds of getting just one team into the title game must be around 5 percent.
"We're up against two very, very, very good teams," Elko coach Chris Klekas said of Desert Pines and Clark. "They're not in our division because of their basketball programs. It must have been because of all those other sports."
Realignment in the South last summer moved 10 former 4A schools down a classification and mixed them with former 3A schools in the newly named Division I-A. Recent competitiveness across all sports determined which schools were moved.
The realignment gives this year's boys Division I-A state tournament, which starts today at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas, the feeling of past 4A boys tournaments. Then, everyone was chasing Bishop Gorman in what felt like a fruitless pursuit. Now, it is Desert Pines and Clark who elevated themselves above not just the best the North can offer but also the rest of the South.
Desert Pines, which faces Lowry at 8 p.m., is 25-3 with two of the three losses coming against out-of-state teams. The lone in-state loss was by two points earlier this month to Findlay Prep, USA Today's No. 1 team in the country.
Clark, Elko's 4:40 p.m. semifinals opponent, is 28-2. Its two losses were to Centennial, which is in the Division I state tournament, and to Desert Pines in last weekend's region final.
"We're not idiots up here; we know what we're going up against," said Lowry coach Chad Peters, whose team last year won its 11th state title. "It's not like they're going to surprise us; we're hoping that we can surprise them.
"We're at 980 (enrollment) and Elko is barely over 1,000."
Clark's enrollment is 2,965 and Desert Pines is at 2,152, according to the Clark County School District.
"But we're not going to complain about it," Peters said. "Chris (Klekas) isn't going to make excuses and neither am I. We know what we're getting into. I know people down there say we don't, but we do. We know."
Knowing and competing, however, are two different things.
"We have to play our best game just to stay in the game," Klekas said. "As long as we don't play scared ... if you're timid, they're going to walk all over you."
One of the major differences between Elko (24-3), Lowry (21-6) and their South counterparts is strength of schedule.
On Feb. 2, when Desert Pines played Findlay, Elko beat West Wendover by 34. The night before, Lowry beat Battle Mountain by 49.
The dissolution of the pod system in the North before next season will help with some scheduling aspects, but Klekas said he will look to make future in-season trips to Las Vegas like he did this year when the Indians played Spring Valley and Legacy in mid-January.
"We've got to be ready, because those teams down there are super athletic," Elko sophomore Nathan Klekas said. "They're big and they're lengthy. ... We've got to compete on every possession if we want to win."
This tournament is just the second time this year former 4A teams from the South dominated Division I-A.
Faith Lutheran won the girls golf state title by 170 strokes in the fall. The 624 team total was 62 shots better than what Spanish Springs won the Division I championship.
"Having Faith Lutheran coming down, it didn't take rocket science to figure out who was going to be the powerhouse," said Elko coach Dave McCabe, whose team took second. "To have that caliber a team ... they could beat most college teams."
Truckee beat Chaparral on its way to the football title. South Tahoe beat Chaparral for the volleyball championship. Lowry reigned supreme over everyone in wrestling.
"No one gives either one of us a chance to go down and beat anyone in the South," Peters said. "But we (Lowry and Elko staffs) were saying to each other, 'Hey, let's do everything we can to play each other on Saturday.'"
RGJ staff writer Duke Ritenhouse contributed to this report.