As the final seconds ticked away on another championship season Saturday, Truckee (Calif.)
football coach Bob Shaffer soaked it all in and wondered how it all came to be.
This was the Wolverines third straight Nevada 3A state title, 11th overall and 36th consecutive victory – a rugged and satisfying 21-6 win over Moapa Valley on a bone-chilling night in of all places Fernley (Nev.)
The game was postponed a day and moved some 35 miles from original locale Reno due to a firestorm that destroyed 30 homes and forced 10,000 residents to evacuate.
Shaffer and the Wolverines were sensitive and empathetic to the Reno residents who endured tragedy.
But to wind up playing the championship game at Fernley, Truckee's fiercest rival since an ugly 1988 incident that involved a bench-clearing brawl that spilled into the stands and led to litigation, was just flat out surreal.
Especially because Truckee roamed Fernley's home sideline.
"It was odd yes," Shaffer said. "But somehow fitting."
Fitting because everything about Truckee's 2011 season was unlikely and uncomfortable.
The Wolverines (12-0) had to replace 20 of 22 starters from the previous season and despite that and a rash of injuries to key players, they continued a win streak that is currently third longest in the country.
They did it with a group of gritty, over-achieving players who has forever lived in the shadow of the talented class from 2010 and 2011.
"I think most people saw this as a rebuilding year," Shaffer said. "We knew coming in this wasn't the biggest or most talented group. And they rarely passed the eye test and they didn't always play pretty. But they fought and they scratched and they got it done."
Senior linebacker and fullback Cole Roberts
was the only player to have contributed to all three current championship teams and all 36 wins.
He personified the Wolverines grit, overcoming a severe hamstring injury early in the season to contribute late.
"This is the greatest accomplishment of my life," he told the Sierra Sun
after Saturday's win. "I'm so proud of my teammates, our coaches and everyone who's been a part of it."
Said Shaffer: "To watch this team progress was pretty remarkable. Pretty magical."
Which is a pretty good description of the recent history of Truckee football, and for that matter Shaffer's coaching career at the school.Paving the way
What sticks out to most outsiders is that the majority of Truckee's success has come in a state it doesn't reside.
Truckee, an incorporated town in Nevada County, is just 31 miles inside the Golden State's border and its claim to fame is snow, skiing, health and hard work.
The Wolverines was part of the California Interscholastic Federation until 1982 but the school was deemed to difficult and dangerous to travel to, especially during the winter season.
Sacramento teams were getting stranded regularly so the CIF didn't invite Truckee back.
The NIAA invited the Wolverines along with four other border towns Coleville (1A), Needles (2A), North Tahoe (2A) and South Tahoe (3A) to join.
"I think the general feeling was that we were always welcomed," Shaffer said. "But when we started winning state championships, not as much. Giving a Nevada state championship to a team from California doesn't sit real well."
They've had to give the Wolverines eight since Shaffer took over as head coach in 1995.
He's had only one losing season in that time and is fourth all-time in state history with 162 wins. He trails only Kirk Haven of Virgin Valley at 166 among active coaches.
Not bad for a native Ohioan who tried to resurrect his coaching career more than 20 years ago with a coaching job in Las Vegas.
"I went there to start a new program," Shaffer said. "I went sight unseen."
But within a couple months, he knew in his blood, that "Sin City" wasn't for him. "It's a place for a lot of people," he said. "Just not me."Pretty much storybook
He ditched his coaching plans temporarily and followed his brother who had a paving business in Truckee. After two years of doing "real work," he landed a junior varsity job for the Wolverines in 1993.
In 1995, he was named head coach, taking over for highly successful Ron Estabrook.
"We lost in the state championship that year 21-20," Shaffer said. "The next year we won it. From there, it's pretty much been storybook. I've been very lucky."
He said the key to success during his tenure was surrounding himself with outstanding assistants.
"As I've grown older and wiser I've learned to delegate," he said.
One of his key assistants is defensive coordinator Josh Ivens, a 1991 Truckee graduate who played on the 1990 state championship team.
He masterminded a defense that keyed the 2011 championship team, punctuated with a gem in the title game.
Moapa Valley managed just 49 yards on 37 carries and 162 yards overall. Truckee also forced six turnovers.
Asked the key to Truckee's success over the years, Ivens said that it's something very innate.
"It's just the type of kids who are raised in Truckee," he said. "They're mountain kids. They're tough kids. They're mostly undersized but they just play with a lot of heart and they play very smart. They can really follow a game plan. They trust the system."
They have to be tough and adaptable.
Truckee travels between five and six hours to two league locations, Spring Creek (337 miles away) and Elko (322 miles).
Those aren't freeway miles either. It's a long and winding road often for the Wolverines.
"The kids get a lot of sleep and homework done on the road," Shaffer said.
As far as toughness, Shaffer doesn't allow sideline heaters even in snowy conditions.
"If we see an opponent with a heater, we feel very confident," Shaffer said with a laugh. "It's just a mind set. Our kids are used to the conditions. It's not something they're thinking about. They're focused on the game plan and winning."
Said Ivens: "As important as the hard work and being smart and being good athletes, I think tradition has a lot to do with the success. The guys want to uphold it."
Senior wingback and defensive back Trevor Auldridge
said he wanted to uphold it before he even got to high school. He led Truckee with 33 catches this season for 513 yards and five touchdowns.
"I remember playing Pop Warner and watching all the players in high school," he said. "I couldn't wait to be one of those guys and now I am. It feels great."