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Wildcats hit highway for semis

While much of the nation tried to shake off a turkey hangover Friday, the Las Vegas High School football team had a different, though equally unpleasant, task.

The Wildcats were up bright and early, getting on a bus at 7 a.m. for a 450-mile drive to Reno.

And they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s better than sitting at home,” Las Vegas coach Chris Faircloth said. “It’s better than putting up the gear.”

The Wildcats (9-4) traveled north to take on Northern Region champion McQueen (12-1) in the Class 4A state semifinals. The game is at 1 p.m. today at McQueen.

“Obviously, we’re not getting on the bus to go across town this week,” Faircloth said. “We’re getting on the bus to go eight hours north to play in totally different weather. We’ll see.

“It’s going to be a pretty hostile environment. We’ll see how we respond. It’s going to be daunting, to say the least.”

It might be a daunting task, but not a new one. The Wildcats have been through plenty of state semifinals as they’ve advanced to the championship game in five of the last six seasons.

Las Vegas won the last two 4A titles and beat McQueen in overtime for the championship in 2001.

While no one has matched Las Vegas’ success in recent years, McQueen was the previous dynasty in the state. The Lancers have won five state titles since 1990, including the 2000 and 2002 championships.

McQueen has rallied from halftime deficits the last two weeks to earn the Northern Region title. They scored 12 unanswered points in the second half to edge Galena 22-21 and reach the state semis.

“They definitely have the McQueen mentality that they’re going to overcome in the end,” Faircloth said.

McQueen’s strategy won’t surprise Las Vegas. The Lancers are a power running team, just like Silverado and Del Sol, the last two teams the Wildcats have faced.

“They just control the football,” Faircloth said. “They get it and they smash it. They’ll take their 4 yards, 5 yards. And sooner or later, those 4 and 5 yards become 10- and 15-yarders if you don’t get them off the field.”

McQueen has used a two-headed rushing attack, featuring Styker Ngongoseke (1,288 yards, 13 TDs) and Tyler York (1,046 yards, 14 TDs).

Ngongoseke and York do their damage behind a line that isn’t huge but is strong and athletic.

“Their offensive line resembles ours a lot — smaller guys that are really willing to play on every snap,” Wildcats senior nose guard Joseph Bringhurst said. “It’s going to be a dog fight the whole time in the trenches, from the first play to the last play.”

The Wildcats will try to counter with a little running of their own. They had little success on the ground last week, struggling for 80 rushing yards on 31 carries.

“It’s getting to a point where if you can’t have some type of running game, it could be a short afternoon and it could be over early,” Faircloth said. “You have to have some ball control.”

And while past experience in the postseason should help the Wildcats, Bringhurst said past success is no guarantee that the team can make it back to the title game.

“There’s a tradition here, and we expect to be good,” Bringhurst said. “But what we did last year doesn’t help at all as we go into every new season. Every year is a new beginning.”

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