Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 | 4 p.m.
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RENO - UNR's Mackay Stadium is roughly an eight-hour bus ride from Summerlin.
But for supporters of Palo Verde football, the site of the 2008 large-school state championship game may as well have been a couple miles down the road.
About 50 band members, all 16 varsity cheerleaders and a strong contingent of parents and students were more than happy to brave the long trek to Reno.
Palo Verde fans filled most of the lower level of the stadium's away sideline to watch their Panthers compete against Reno's McQueen High for Nevada football's top prize. Palo Verde didn't return to Las Vegas with that prize, however, coming up short 13-12.
"I don't think any of us were focused on the drive or the flight up here because the experience is all that matters," said Erica Brown, co-captain for the cheerleaders. "I'm surprised so many were able to make it up here. The drive isn't the most exciting thing, so the fact so many people came is amazing."
While the football team filled the first bus that departed from Palo Verde to Reno at 3 a.m. on Friday, it wasn't the last. The band and student council packed another bus that left at 10 a.m. Friday and arrived after the sun went down.
A third bus full of parents and students left from Palo Verde at 1 a.m. Saturday and arrived in Reno a couple hours before kickoff.
"The seats were cramped, but it was worth every minute to get here for this moment," said George Hodge, father of running back Sidney Hodge. "It's these types of moments we're living for that will make an impact on our kids for the rest of their lives."
Wendell Harris, father of defensive back Torin Harris, admitted he slept most of the ride, but didn't mind the travel at all, adding it was enjoyable to be with other Palo Verde fans for 11 hours leading up to the game.
"I had a ball," Wendell Harris said. "We have some great parents (and) fans on this team, and we all get along. We've all been waiting for this, baby. I'm more excited than the kids are. I'm ready to play. I need some pads and a helmet."
Not all fans drove, however. Throughout Saturday morning, people in Palo Verde attire could be seen leaving Reno/Tahoe International Airport.
Scott Nobriga, father of linebacker Liloa Nobriga, said he didn't mind buying a plane ticket to take in the state championship.
"Leading up to this game, it seems like every minute was like an hour and every hour was like a day, so it's relieving to finally be here," Scott Nobriga said. "Palo fans have been 100 percent supportive. Every home and away game during the season we've always had a really good turnout."
In the minutes leading up the game, it was obvious that more than just Palo Verde's football players were pleased to perform on the big stage. Cheerleaders and band members assumed their positions long before kickoff, many taking pictures and taking in the moment.
"We've never made it to state since (our class) has been here, so it feels really good," senior saxophone player Alyssa Hyams said. "We're all excited from the bus ride and being in this big stadium."
Zach Schele, a senior euphonium player, said he was happy the football team made state while he was still at the school.
"It feels good after we got to the state semifinals the last three years and lost," Schele said. "It's an honor to have the opportunity to come down to this college stadium and get the feeling of what it's like to be in a bigger scenario for football."
Kelsey Hutchison, the captain of the cheerleading team, said performing at a venue like Mackay Stadium was a thrill and it has inspired her to try out for cheerleading when she attends college next fall.
"This has been so exciting, especially it being my senior year," Hutchison said. "This is a taste of what our futures could be for all of us - the players, the cheerleaders, the band. Everyone."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].