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Chaparral football breaks new ground in state playoffs

A group of Chaparral alumni banded together this week and raised thousands of dollars for the Cowboys’ football team. A chunk of that money is earmarked for cold-weather clothing.

When you’re not used to playing in November, long sleeves aren’t necessary.

“It’s unchartered waters for us at this point,” Chaparral coach Paul Nihipali said, “but nevertheless, it’s good for the kids.”

The Cowboys (9-2), fresh off an upset victory over Sunset League champion Faith Lutheran, will try to continue their postseason run when they travel to Fallon to meet host Churchill County at 1 p.m. Saturday in a Division I-A state semifinal.

Chaparral is seeking its first appearance in the state title game since the Cowboys fell to McQueen in the Class 3A final in 1990. The Cowboys’ lone state championship came in 1977.

“We have to work extra hard to keep these kids focused and keep their feet on the ground,” Nihipali said Thursday at practice. “A lot of these kids have never been out of town, to tell you the truth. It’s going to be not just a culture shock for them, but a new adventure in their life.”

Chaparral rallied in the second half to defeat Faith Lutheran 21-20 last week in the state quarterfinals. Quarterback Andrew Solis hit Richard Nelson for a 20-yard touchdown with 53 seconds left, and Solis found Jacob Ford on the 2-point conversion to lift the Cowboys to the stunning victory.

Churchill County (10-1) has won 10 straight since a 34-23 loss to Tokay (Calif.) in the season opener. The Greenwave allow an average of 8.2 points per game and are led on offense by quarterback Connor Richardson (2,262 yards passing, 30 touchdowns; 450 yards rushing, six TDs).

“We’ve looked at films,” Nihipali said. “Churchill, they’ve been in this situation before, so they’re going to be a tough team. They’re very sound, very disciplined. They play four quarters of football and they just know how to win games. We’ve got to play a football game. We’ve got to stay focused on what our purpose is heading up north.”

The Cowboys must face a long bus ride and a hostile crowd, but the good news is it appears they won’t need thermal underwear for the trip. Temperatures in Fallon are expected to be in the 50s on Saturday with no snow in the forecast.

“Since Day 1, we’ve talked about adversity. We’ve talked about playing out of your comfort zone,” Nihipali said. “The kids have stepped up. And this is something we talked about in June, setting goals for ourselves.”

Casey Acosta and Nelson have accounted for all seven of the Cowboys’ offensive touchdowns in the postseason.

Acosta has been the big-play guy the past two weeks for Chaparral — his 92-yard kickoff return for a score to open the second half sparked the Cowboys last week — and the speedy senior will be a focal point for the Greenwave’s defense.

“We’re healthy,” Nihipali said. “We’ve got all the players in the position they excel. We’re going to go in feeling comfortable with what we’ve done to get us this far.”

Contact reporter David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.

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