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Big day, big stage for high school football at Allegiant Stadium

At the crack of dawn Thursday — actually it was straight-up 9 a.m., it just seemed roosters were crowing — a football tumbled end over end toward the end zone of Allegiant Stadium marked “LAS VEGAS.”

Erick Rodriguez, No. 30 on the Yerington Lions, wiped the sleep from his eyes before hauling the ball in over his shoulder. He spun around and headed up field before being stopped on the 17-yard line.

I wonder if it occurred to the junior running back/outside linebacker from the little ranching town in Lyon County that just 12 days ago — near the end zone labeled “RAIDERS” on the opposite end of the field — Mick Jagger was positing that sleepy London town was just no place for a Street Fighting Man.

That was the opening song on the set list at the Allegiant Stadium stop of the Rolling Stones’ No Filter tour.

This was the opening kickoff of the 2021 NIAA/One Nevada State Football Championships, presented by the Las Vegas Raiders.

It was the biggest day of the season, on the biggest stage the high school kids had ever seen. But at 9 a.m., Allegiant Stadium seemed as sleepy as old London town.

Football ’round the clock

The Class 2A game was the first of four state title matchups that would be played on this day, and a smattering of spectators were stifling yawns on the Yerington side of the cavernous stadium with the translucent roof.

It wasn’t the first time that four Nevada high school football championships were decided on one day. But it was the first time that, watching from the press box at high elevation, the players appeared to be buzzing around in undecipherable patterns like in those electric football games that entertained sports writers of a certain age when they were kids.

None of the players on the field locked arms and twirled around in circles. But Yerington coach Brad Pope said the reaction when the Lions ran onto the Raiders’ home turf was pretty close to that, even if most of the 65,000 seats were unoccupied.

“I recorded them coming down the tunnel, and the reaction was ‘wow,’” the 1999 Green Valley High graduate said after Yerington outscored The Meadows 35-26 in a game crisper than the bacon on a breakfast sandwich. “We still play on a grass field that was there when the high school (was built). It’s from the 1930s.”

That’s exactly the reaction the NIAA was hoping for when it teamed with the Raiders on short notice to provide the state championship participants with a Kodak moment, or at least the equivalent of one on a cellphone.

Auspicious beginning

By the time the last game of the day kicked off at 7 p.m., 14,167 tickets had been sold. The nighttime rematch for the 3A title featuring rivals Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley drew a day-high 4,996 paying customers.

“Today Nevada high school football and really, Nevada high school athletics and activities overall, are the champions,” NIAA executive director Donnie Nelson said of the turnout and reaction. “And of course Allegiant Stadium is the star. It starts with our sponsor, One Nevada Credit Union … but the Las Vegas Raiders have rolled out the red carpet.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we could get to this point in a partnership with the Raiders — that’s what I am going to call it, a partnership — this quickly.”

For an undertaking with a lot of moving parts that came together in three weeks and was announced only nine days ago, the prep football cornucopia went off about as well as could be expected.

The games started at their announced times, and the classic rock soundtrack played between them over the loudspeakers delighted sports writers of a certain age who once played with electric football games.

Fans had complained earlier in the week that playing on Thursday instead of Saturday would make it necessary to burn a sick day at work. But enough showed up to cause a Space Mountain-type queue at the concession area behind Section 118.

On a day that began with so many question marks, getting a slice of pizza before Bishop Gorman scored two more touchdowns seemed to be the only one that went unanswered.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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