The Sierra League should be highly competitive this year, especially at the top.
Carson will once again be a contender. Damonte Ranch and Galena appear ready to threaten for the Sierra League’s No. 1 seed. Douglas and Bishop Manogue will be fighting for the league’s fourth and final playoff spot.
Here is a look at the five teams fighting for four playoff spots:
Coach: Blair Roman
Experience: 9th season
2015 Record: 10-2, 4-0; Sierra League champion; lost to Reed in regional title game
Returning Starters: 8
Key Losses: RB/DB Asa Carter, QB Joe Carter, WR/DB Connor Pradere, DB Caulin Bartley, OL/DL Connor Sievers, LB Ikela Lewis, DE Jacob Drahos, LB Max Demar
Key Returners: QB Jace Keema, RB/AB Abel Carter, DT Sheldon Miller, LB Justin Tschetter, LB Jordan Aikins, DB Spencer Rogers
What to Expect on Offense: A lot of Abel Carter. Carter burst onto the scene as a sophomore last year, accounting for nearly 1,300 yards of offense and seven touchdowns. He will be featured in an offense that lost its three biggest weapons from 2015: Quarterback Joe Nelson, wide receiver Connor Pradere and running back/wide receiver Asa Carter, Abel’s older brother. Jace Keema will take over the quarterbacking responsibilities. Coach Blair Roman said the staff has been grooming Keema for this season. Keema, a strong runner, completed 16-of-26 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns in a pair of spot starts last year. The big question mark comes up front. The Senators lost four starting offensive linemen to graduation. A lot of what Carson does offensively will be dictated by that unit’s development.
What to Expect on Defense: Roman prefers to build his defenses from the inside out, but he doesn’t have a lot of starting experience coming back on the inside. Three defensive linemen graduated as did stud linebacker Ikela Lewis. Roman will turn to defensive tackle Sheldon Miller to be the cornerstone of the d-line. Linebackers Justin Tschetter and Jordan Atkins, as well as defensive back Spencer Rogers, will be asked to bring along a young group. The offense figures to take a slight step back this year, giving the group additional onus.
Team will be Successful if: The combination of Keema, a dual-threat quarterback, and Carter will lay a solid foundation for the offense. Roman feels good about multiple other skill position players that will be in the mix as well. If the offensive line can come together, the Carson offense will once again be a problem for opposing defenses. Defensively, there is a strong core in place, but again, a number of players will need to fill into starting positions. With Damonte Ranch and Galena figuring to improve this fall, a Sierra League title is hardly a guarantee.
Prediction: 6-3, 3-1
Coach: Steve Struzyk
Experience: 15th season
2015 Record: 7-4, 3-1; 2nd in Sierra League; lost to Reed in regional semifinals
Returning Starters: 12
Key Losses: QB/WR Quintin Mills, WR/DB Travis Bohall, OL/DL Nathan Edwards, RB/LB Hunter Cote
Key Returners: QB/ATH Derek Kline, RB/DB Jake Berger, RB/LB Mateo Lemus, TE/LB Peyton Sakelaris, WR/DB Bryan Madison, OL/DL Stettler Anderson
What to Expect on Offense: The Grizzlies return as much backfield talent as anyone in Northern Nevada (along with Damonte Ranch). Junior quarterback Derek Kline, who will be one of the best athletes on the field all year, took over the job after a few games last season and went on to complete 82-of-152 passes for 1,166 yards (14.2 yards per completion) and 10 touchdowns. He will be joined in the backfield by senior running backs Jake Berger and Mateo Lemus. Berger ran for 1,157 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Lemus ran for 554 yards and seven touchdowns. Those three will work behind an offensive line that returns three starters. The Grizzlies are one of the last teams in Northern Nevada to still take snaps from under center, so don’t look for many four-receiver sets.
What to Expect on Defense: There isn’t going to be anything sexy about it. It’ll be Galena’s athletes against everyone else’s. The return of several key cogs, including Stettler Anderson and Peyton Sakelaris, have the Grizzlies in a position to hang around with the numerous fast offenses in Northern Nevada. The unit was one of the best in the region last year, allowing fewer than 21 points a contest. Galena will win a lot of ball games this year if the defense can replicate that number with the offense projected to improve this fall.
Team will be Successful if: Fifteenth year coach Steve Struzyk was not excited about how his team started last year. The Grizzlies grinded out a 14-2 win over Lassen at Mackay Stadium before falling 9-0 to Reno and 42-19 to Reed. A strong senior class should cue a faster beginning to the 2016 campaign. Those were non-league contests, however. Galena really has two games to circle on its calendar: Sept. 30 at Carson for Sierra League opener and Oct. 27 at Damonte Ranch in the final game of regular season. The outcome of those two contests will likely dictate if the Grizzlies will win a league title, or open the postseason on the road.
Prediction: 7-2, 3-1
Damonte Ranch Mustangs
Coach: Shawn Dupris
Experience: 5th season
2015 Record: 4-7, 2-2; 3rd in Sierra League; lost to Reno in regional quarterfinals
Returning Starters: 17
Key Losses: WR Elijah Sapico, RB/DB Sam Banghart, LB Jacob Saffle, LB Pearson Lawrence
Key Returners: QB Cade McNamara, RB/DB Cameron Sandoval, WR/LB Robert Garlock, DE/TE Anthony Parker, OL/DL Jonah Hyde, OL/DL Adonis Williams, OL/DL Jacob Covert
What to Expect on Offense: No longer dressing up for Damonte on Friday nights will be stud receiver Elijah Sapico or running back Sam Banghart. Sapico caught 69 passes for 856 yards and nine touchdowns. Banghart ran for 677 yards and 10 touchdowns. Still, the Mustangs are loaded at the skill position. Quarterback Cade McNamara returns after a stellar freshman season. He completed 150-of-284 passes for 2,042 yards and 17 touchdowns and is already acquiring looks from NCAA Div. I programs. He will throw the ball to any of 10 receivers fifth-year coach Shawn Dupris said he feels comfortable using this year, most notably Robert Garlock. When McNamara isn’t throwing, he will hand the ball off to senior Cameron Sandoval, who ran for 841 yards (7.7 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns a season ago. Sandoval is one of the most dangerous Northern Nevada players in space and will create problems on special teams as well. The skill players will work behind an experienced offensive line.
What to Expect on Defense: Something new to the Dupris-led Mustangs, the defensive front will feature some size this fall. Damonte is six-men deep up front, which will allow bodies to shuffle in and out. Defensive end Anthony Parker headlines the front. He recorded 49 tackles as a junior (eight for loss) with four sacks. The numerous skill position players, specifically at wide out, leave the Mustangs will plenty of secondary depth as well. The most pressing query on the defense is at linebacker. Jacob Saffle and Pearson Lawrence anchored the group last fall and both graduated. Saffle compiled 137 tackles with four sacks. Lawrence had 149 with 10 sacks. A boost in size up front and a deep secondary should help the new linebackers ease into their roles.
Team will be Successful if: The Mustangs need to finish this year. That has been the focus of fall camp. Dupris hopes leadership from a large senior class (many of whom started as sophomores) will help in the fourth quarter. Damonte finished 4-7 overall last year, a record burdened by struggles in the final quarter. The Mustangs lost to Reno, 14-13, Carson, 17-14, and Galena, 34-19, getting shut out only in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs should be improved in all three aspects of the game this year and a brutal non-league schedule with games against Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, Calif.), Edison (Fresno, Calif.) and Shasta (Redding, Calif.) will only prepare them for big games in October. They are a legitimate threat to steal the Sierra League title and dethrone Reed atop the 4A North.
Prediction: 7-3, 3-1
Coach: Ernie Monfiletto
Experience: 5th season
2015 Record: 2-8, 1-3; 4th in Sierra League; lost to Reed in regional quarterfinals
Returning Starters: 10
Key Losses: QB Bryce James, RB/CB Sam Melhus, WR/DB Cody Ball, WR/DB Tomas Leitenbauer,
Key Returners: RB/CB Will Williams, RB/LB Ryland Desomber, RB/CB Dawson Coman, QB Hunter Hickey, OL/DL Tahomah Smokey, TE/DE Taran Grove, OL/DL Cody Lewis, OL/DL Daniel Rich, OL/DL Guy Rogers, OL/DL Dawson Hughes, LB/TE Reagan Roberson, WR /DB Alex Parker
What to Expect on Offense: Bryce James was Douglas’ offense last year. Now he’s gone. The question becomes ‘who will replace that productivity?’ The Tigers return six offensive linemen (including tight end Reagan Roberson), so the answer may be by committee, at the running back position. Coach Ernie Monfiletto believes the ground game will be a strength for this year’s team with Will Williams, Ryland Desomber, Dawson Coman and Dakota Lowden all expected to get carries.
What to Expect on Defense: Monfiletto is switching things up on the defensive side of the ball, opting to go from a 4-3 to a 3-4. He believes that will give the group more flexibility to cover the diverse offenses ran in Northern Nevada. Roberson will run the show from the middle linebacker position.
Team will be Successful if: Douglas duked it out with Bishop Manogue last season to grab the Sierra League’s fourth and final playoff spot. On paper, it appears that may be the case again. With Carson, Damonte Ranch and Galena all anticipated to compete for the Sierra League title, that leaves the Tigers and Miners fighting for fourth. James graduating is a big blow to the offense, which will now need to find a consistent ground game behind an experienced offensive front.
Prediction: 2-7, 1-3
Bishop Manogue Miners
Coach: Thomas Peregrin
Experience: 3rd season
2015 Record: 1-8, 0-4; 5th in Sierra League; no playoffs
Returning Starters: 5
Key Losses:TE/DE Michael Lynch, WR/DB Artie Henderson, WR/LB Bailey Bright, TE/LB Chase Ortiz
Key Returners: OL/DL Nikko Hamlin, QB Lincoln Hauck, RB/DB Angelo Reviglio, RB/DB Moises Aparico
What to Expect on Offense: Third-year coach Thomas Peregrin is installing a veer-option offense this year. Running backs Angelo Reviglio and Moises Aparico are in line to benefit from the makeover to the ground game but will be running behind a youthful offensive line. Standing 6-5 and weighing 260 pounds, senior Nikko Hamlin will be asked to anchor the unit as well as bring the new faces along. Sophomore quarterback Lincoln Hauck will be back behind center after completing 67-of-119 passes for 690 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman. Peregrin said he would like to see the passing game grow in Hauck’s second year, but the goal is to “pound the rock.”
What to Expect on Defense: Lacking some size and a lot of experience, the Miners will rely on a common defense theme: rallying to the ball. Knowing the defense would be young, Peregrin started teaching the playbook early to give the kids a heads up. The playbook will not be overly complex, however. The plan is to “keep it simple, less thinking, more playing.” Peregrin started defensive game planning for Friday (home vs. North Valleys) two weeks ago.
Team will be Successful if: Bishop Manogue was incredibly young last year. And somehow, through graduation, players opting not to play, and a strong sophomore class, they got even younger. Just five seniors are on the 2016 roster. If Bishop Manogue is to compete for a Sierra League playoff spot, the monster sophomore class will have to adjust to the size and speed of varsity football. The combination of a young offensive line and a complete overhaul may potentially be problematic, but the veer-option is a thin playbook for the big boys. Hauck returning as a sophomore after running the show as a freshman isn’t going to hurt either. So much youth doesn’t bode well for 2016. It’s a different story for the next couple seasons.
Prediction: 1-8, 0-4