No matter how you dissect Saturday's Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Class 4A football state title game, the differences between the participants could not be more glaring.
On the one side, there's Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), a private school with its sparkling new campus in the Southwest foothills playing Del Sol (Las Vegas), a public school with a cookie-cutter layout nestled next to a Home Depot and soon-to-be-opened Schlotzsky's Deli in the Southeast corner of the city.
It's the second-highest scoring team in America (Gorman) against the one that wins close games with stiff defense and a ball-control offense (Del Sol); the roster stocked with potential FBS recruits (Gorman) versus, well, one that isn't (Del Sol).
And it's the program that is searching for its second state title in three years, and has aspirations for national recognition (Gorman), taking on one that has never advanced this far in the postseason and finally broke through after three straight setbacks in the Sunrise Region final (Del Sol).
Yes, Gorman (14-0) and Del Sol (12-1) may not appear to have much in common, but that's the intrigue in the matchup that kicks off at 12:07 p.m. at UNLV's Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
"These kids, they're really down-to-earth kids," Del Sol coach Preston Goroff said. "They don't see (Gorman) kind of the way we see them as coaches. They see them as other 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds. They respect them, but they don't fear them.
"We don't want to go in with the nonchalant attitude that it doesn't really matter, but I think the pressure's obviously on (Gorman) to win the game."
The Gaels, who are No. 1 in the MaxPreps state rankings, come in as heavy favorites for most of those previously stated reasons. Gorman is fresh off a 62-21 road dismantling of Northern Region champion Reed (Sparks) in the state semifinals and has scored 736 points (52.6 ppg), which is second in the nation behind only Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.), the No. 4 team in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25.
Gorman features two 1,000-yard rushers (senior Victor Belen and sophomore Shaquille Powell) and has thrived under first-year coach Tony Sanchez, who arrived from the Bay Area after turning around a moribund California (San Ramon) program.
"Obviously I walked into a great group with a lot of talent," Sanchez said. "They're a very unselfish group. They're humble and committed to working hard every day and being structured. To be 14-0 and to have the opportunity to play for a state championship is absolutely incredible.
"You come in and I think anybody who is competitive has a little nervous energy to them. You kind of hope for the best and plan for the worst, but it's exceeded my expectations."
One of the biggest surprises for Gorman has been freshman quarterback Jarrett Solomon. After being eased into the offense during the early part of the season, Solomon has been outstanding in the playoffs, going 35-of-50 for 769 yards with four TDs in four games.
"I think the big thing is we never asked him to win us a game, just manage the game," Sanchez said. "As the season went on and he started to mature, we gave him more. Now, it's not an issue. From today until the rest of his career, we'll call everything we've got. He's not a freshman anymore. We're going into Week 15; he's halfway through his sophomore year."
While the high-powered offense gets most of the attention, Gorman's strength is its overall balance. The Gaels feature a dangerous kick returner in Johnathan Loyd, a basketball standout who joined the football team after the first week of the season and has six TDs. And there's Gorman's traditionally talented defense, led by a down four that Goroff called the best he's seen on film in his 15 years of coaching.
"They've got a good team and they're well-coached, which is a double-whammy," Goroff said. ""They are a tremendous football team, unlike anything we've seen this year. They don't have a weak link. They're going to make you play as close to perfect as you can in order to be successful against them."
Goroff said the No. 4 Dragons will not deviate from their formula, though, and will try to eat up the clock and keep the potent Gorman offense on the sideline. That means plenty of action for Del Sol running back Dezerick Reed, a senior who has rushed for 1,885 yards and 21 TDs.
Reed left last week's 20-19 win over Basic (Henderson) in the Sunrise Region title game early in the first quarter with an ankle injury, but is expected to play Saturday, according to Goroff.
"We have to be able to run the ball if we're going to have a chance to win this game," Goroff said at practice on Tuesday. "We kept him out of the second half (against Basic) and I think that's probably the smartest thing we did. Between yesterday and today, he said he's really felt a lot better. ... It's his senior year and it's the state championship, so he'd probably play on one leg if he had to."
If Reed is slowed, sophomore Chris Marshall figures to get the bulk of the action. Marshall ran for 142 yards and a score against Basic and gives the Dragons an added dimension to their power running game.
"He might be the best all-around back we might have ever even had at this school as a sophomore," Goroff said. "Even though we want to stick to the formula, we are able to do a couple different things. Maybe get outside a little bit more, maybe split him out wide and throw him the ball a little more."
If the Dragons are able to do that, they have a chance to make it a close game, which is where Del Sol has thrived this season. The Dragons are 5-1 in games decided by a seven points or less, while Gorman has won every game by a double-digit margin. Its closest game was a 38-28 win over Palo Verde (Las Vegas) in the Sunset Region semifinals.
A big victory here could also be a springboard for the Gaels to be nationally ranked in 2010.
"When I was at Cal, we played an ambitious schedule, but there's only so much you can control in high school football," Sanchez said of his previous coaching stop. "It's not like there's national playoffs and it's not like there should be. There's some things already in the works for next year, but really our focus is on winning the state championship in Nevada."
David Schoen works at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and is a former Associate Sports Editor and Turn2 columnist for the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune. You can reach him at ByDavid1@aol.com.