Published Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 | 8:50 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 | 9:35 p.m.
The Faith Lutheran High football team proved its doubters wrong one more time this season. The Crusaders showed again they are the real deal.
Keenan Smith had a pair of first-half touchdown runs today and the Crusaders forced seven turnovers, winning the first state championship in program history with a 17-0 victory over Churchill County of Fallon for the Division 1-A title in Reno.
Faith Lutheran, which won its final 12 games after starting the season with a 0-2 record, led 14-0 at halftime. Trent Dolby’s field goal accounted for the lone points of the second half and the Faith Lutheran defense did the rest in preserving the shutout.
Faith Lutheran found its confidence under first-year coach Vernon Fox, a former NFL player. His mantra “We Will Win” quickly became a rallying cry with the players, and with each victory, they started believing they could make a meaningful playoff run.
They wound up winning the school’s first football championship in more than 25 years of fielding a team. It was the first time they had reached the championship game.
“After winning four in a row, the kids got to the place where they had the confidence, the believed and they saw the potential,” Fox said. “But we made sure we concentrated on one game at a time and they were mature enough to handle it week to week. We told them to not be worried about winning the state championship. Just be 1-0 and win the week.”
When it became obvious Faith Lutheran would be 1-0 this week, Fox hustled over to the bench where the water coolers were sitting. He made sure to dump the fluids from one cooler, but players still managed to get his shoulder partially wet using another cooler. Assistant coach Jake Kothe, who was the head coach for nearly 15 years before the season, wasn’t so lucky — he was drenched from head to toe.
It was a fun moment to be a Crusader — finally, after years of coming up short, they were the last team standing. Even when they went on their lengthy winning streak, some had doubts they could win a title. After tonight, there is little doubt.
“It was almost like we lived in a bubble the past three months,” Fox said. “Despite what anyone on the outside though or how they didn’t believe in us, I always preached the important people are in the locker room — our coaches and players.
“The kids bought in,” he continued. It’s a team thing. Not me. God first, then everyone else unified.”
Smith carried the ball 25 times for 170 yards, scoring his first touchdown on a 7-yard run with less than a minute to play in the first quarter. After the Faith Lutheran defense recovered a fumble inside the Churchill County 10 on the ensuing possession, Smith scored his second touchdown on a 1-yard plunge less than two minutes later.
That was all the Faith Lutheran defense would need.
One week after limiting Lowry of Northern Nevada to eight points in the state semifinals, the Crusaders forced seven turnovers — five interceptions and two fumble recoveries — in keeping Churchill County off the scoreboard.
About two hours after the win, the victory was still setting in with the players. They were still trying to digest what just happened and how they accomplished what was previously unthinkable.
“We knew we could get the job done,” Smith said. “We are all pretty speechless right now, honestly. We don’t know what to think. We just believed. We had faith. We got the job done.”