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Football: Hard-working Huskies, on verge of region title, have season going their way


1:00 AM, Oct. 19, 2012 EDT

Photo from the Reno- McQueen football game on September 21, 2012 at Reno. / Julie Dawes /Special to RGJ

Galena. Throttled.

Damonte Ranch. Outmatched.

McQueen. Clutch late.

North Valleys. One-sided.

Spanish Springs. Statement.

Hug. Never a doubt.

Reno High rolled through its last six games and now owns the region's longest active win streak.

But Reno is not the area's most talented team. Heck, the Huskies might not be the fifth-most talented team in the Division I North Region.

That did not keep them from running off those six straight wins, which has them on the doorstep of a league championship. All the No. 2 Huskies have left to do in the regular season is kick in the door -- with a win tonight at home against No. 1 Reed.

"It's for a league championship; that's the position we find ourselves in," quarterback Chad Savage said. "It's going to be a special night with it being senior night. We think we'll play up to the occasion, and hopefully, come out with the 'W.' We're playing with nothing to lose."

Like all coaches, the Huskies' Dan Avansino is keenly aware of what his team is and what it is not.

He knows its strengths and weaknesses and isn't afraid to talk about those areas that might be deficient.

"I don't know if we have any superstars," he said.

"We don't have the biggest guys and the strongest guys and the fastest guys."

He also called this year's team "a group that doesn't have all the individual talent" of others.

Avansino is not bashing his team by any means -- a quick glance at the standings shows there is no reason for that. He says these things with more than a hint of pride in his voice.

Reno is not the area's most talented team. Heck, the Huskies may not be the fifth-most talented team in the Division I North Region.

But that did not keep them from running off six straight wins, which has them on the doorstep of a league championship. All the No. 2 Huskies have left to do in the regular season is kick in the door -- with a win tonight at home against No. 1 Reed.

"It's for a league championship; that's the position we find ourselves in," quarterback Chad Savage said. "It's going to be a special night with it being senior night. We think we'll play up to the occasion and hopefully come out with the 'W.' We're playing with nothing to lose."

In a season full of surprises, that Reno is in this position might be the biggest surprise of all. Of course, that's not the case in the Huskies' locker room.

"We expected to be here," senior Justin Crow said. "This was our goal, to have a chance to play this game at home and take it from them. But now we have to win it. It's not just about getting here and putting up a good game. We want to win the game, obviously.

"We've felt a little disrespected, which is fine. I like flying under the radar as a team. We felt we had a lot of returning starters on both sides of the ball and expected to be very competitive."

It wasn't just the players who sensed a low external bar.

"Nobody really expected anything from us," Avansino said. "Sometimes young people get caught up in expectations. So for them to have that level-headedness to come out and say we have to earn something really shows a lot. Because not every group has been this way for us.

"Sometimes with the preseason stuff and the accolades, and that goes back to not having a superstar ... it comes back to that team component that has made us a group that doesn't have all the individual talent but still can be more than competitive."

Galena, Damonte Ranch, McQueen, North Valleys, Spanish Springs and Hug can attest to that. Based on what he's seen on film this week, so too can Reed coach Ernie Howren.

"I'm not surprised at all they're where they're at," Howren said. "The energy level and the emotion they play with are evident. They outhit their opponents and the block well and tackle well. Those are the basics of football. If you do those things well, you're going to be successful."

The blueprint

So how did Reno, which went 19-26 in the four seasons since its last league title in 2007 and the beginning of its current win streak, get here?

The obvious answer is Savage. He may not be stereotypical superstar but what he does on the field and what he means to his teammates more than fills the role.

Savage passed for nearly 1,700 yards and had an outstanding 17-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio through eight games. He also ran for 448 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 2,146 all-purpose yards rank second in the region.

And he plays safety on nearly every defensive snap.

"He does everything for us. He's our captain and I'm glad we have him," Crow said.

Avansino said there is "no question" Savage has provided more than the coach expected in his first season as a starter.

"When your 'best player' is your hardest worker, everybody else follows suit," Avansino said. "That sets the tone for the rest of the team. I think his most valuable quality, although he's been super productive on the field on both sides of the football, is that he is probably our hardest worker at practice every day.

"I don't know if we have any superstars -- yeah, Chad has been very good -- but we have plenty of guys who can make plays. I think that just makes our team stronger when we can rely on other people."

The more subtle explanation for the Huskies' re-emergence this year is the cue it takes from its self-aware head coach.

"It is a big one but I don't know that we view it that way. It hasn't felt any different this week," Avansino said. "We know we're vying for a league title. But we're not going to buy into that more than anything else.

"It sounds crazy but we haven't been looking forward to this game. We didn't talk about being here. It's boring but it's true. We've just been working day to day and grinding it out. And I think that's been the difference."

 

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