For three quarters, neither snowy conditions nor the Truckee Mystique could help the Wolverines break the Cheyenne Desert Shields on Saturday afternoon.
So, the three-time defending state champion Wolverines turned to their defense with elimination nearing, forcing four turnovers and producing a clinching score in the final 12 minutes of a 26-18 Division I-A state semifinal football victory.
Truckee (10-1) advances to play Moapa Valley in the state championship for the fifth straight year.
Senior linebacker Erik Holmer recovered two fumbles, taking one 24 yards for a touchdown as Truckee battled back from an 18-13 deficit after three quarters.
"It's one of those we always talk about, the old cliché you gotta play for four quarters," said Truckee coach Bob Shaffer, who is seeking his ninth state title at Truckee. "I thought it was a pretty even battle for the first three, and then in the fourth quarter, our kids found something in the reserve tank, dug a little deeper and responded with some big plays."
Graham Christian forced a fumble, and Zak and Jake Pettit gathered in the final two turnovers with a fumble recovery and interception in the final minutes to secure the win.
"We always put the game on the defense at Truckee, that's definitely big for us," Christian said. "It was nice to get everyone to step up under the pressure."
Despite its fourth-quarter breakdowns, Cheyenne (9-3) wasn't bothered by the sub-freezing temperatures and periodic snowfall during the charged semifinal.
"We ignored the weather," Desert Shields coach David Cochran said. "All of that stuff in no way had anything to do with the outcome."
Workhorse running back Myloe Lewis put the Desert Shields ahead late in the third period, breaking free from a pile at the line of scrimmage on fourth and inches. Lewis' 52-yard touchdown run, Cheyenne's longest play, gave the Desert Shields an 18-13 edge with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third period. But for the third straight time after a touchdown, the Desert Shields were unable to convert a two-point conversion.
"It looked like they were pulling away with it, but our team never gives up," Christian said. "It was nice to have everyone come through and not give up."
Cheyenne appeared to be in control early in the fourth period after forcing a Truckee punt. But with 11:05 remaining, Holmer fell on a Lewis fumble at the Cheyenne 40.
The Wolverines temporarily stalled on offense after picking up a first down. A holding penalty moved Truckee back to midfield and left the Wolverines in a desperate third-and-32 situation.
Truckee had a solution as Holmer found Tyler Curtis over the middle for a 28-yard gain to set up a sideline route to Adam Morgan, which was good for nine yards and a first down at the Cheyenne 13.
"It was a play that we had called a couple times earlier in the game but didn't quite have enough time to let the play develop," Shaffer said of Curtis' game-changing reception. "That's why you play game, because you just never give up on those plays."
From there, The Wolverines turned to a running game that was neutralized by Cheyenne most of the afternoon. Holmer's quarterback keeper netted seven yards, and Curtis moved the Wolverines two yards closer to the 4 on a straight-ahead run. That set up Jake Pettit's 4-yard touchdown run off tackle as Truckee regained the lead, 20-18, with 6:00 left.
Christian continued Truckee's fourth-quarter defensive statement on Cheyenne's next possession. Playing with a hurt shoulder, Christian ushered Lewis out of bounds for a three-yard loss on third down, then hit quarterback Darrion Hammond from the side on fourth down, creating a fumble that Holmer scooped up at the 24 and ran into the end zone.
"I really didn't have to do much; all I had to do was pick up the ball," Holmer said of his defensive score. "It was a definite team victory. I'm just emotionally exhausted right now, because it was all four quarters fighting."
However, Louden Smith was wide on his extra-point attempt, leaving the Desert Shields within striking range at 26-18 with 4:21 remaining.
Forced to do something they don't do often -- pass -- the Desert Shields self-destructed on their final two opportunities. First, Curtis and Christian combined to dislodge the ball from a scrambling Hammond. Zak Pettit covered a forced fumble at the Cheyenne 37.
After Cheyenne forced a Truckee punt with 1:31 to go, the Wolverines pressured Hammond into his final mistake. Following a sack by Zak Pettit for a 10-yard loss, Jake Pettit was perfectly positioned to pick off Hammond's final desperation throw at the Truckee 40 with 33 seconds left.
"The turnovers will get you," Cochran said. "They capitalized. You can't win this time of the year by turning the ball over."
Lewis gouged the Wolverines defense for 180 yards and three touchdowns on 33 caries. The senior running back touched the ball on 33 of Cheyenne's 57 plays from scrimmage.
Truckee, meanwhile, was led by Holmer, who provided most his team's offense. He rushed for 50 yards on 16 chances and passed for 178 yards. His 19-yard scoring strike to Morgan midway through the second period gave Truckee a 13-12 lead.
"That quarterback is pretty crafty. We tried to contain him as much as possible, but you can only hold a kid like that so much," Cochran said.
The field was relatively dry following two days of snow. A grounds crew plowed and blew all of the snow from the field Saturday morning.
Now, the Wolverines can turn their attention to a familiar foe in the championship.
"It's a clash of the titans," Christian said. "I was looking forward to it being Moapa all year. I'm glad it is, and we'll see what happens."