New coach, old offense has White Pine in hunt for playoffs

Not long ago, the idea of White Pine’s football team reaching the postseason seemed laughable.
The Bobcats followed their most recent playoff appearance in 2005 with back-to-back winless seasons. They were a combined 4-31 from 2006 to 2009, when the program was guided by three different head coaches.
But nobody is laughing at White Pine football now.
First-year head coach Paul Bingham, who was promoted from defensive coordinator after last season, vowed to change the culture within the program. And he’s already creating a culture of winning: If the postseason began today, White Pine (3-4, 3-2 Class 2A Southern League) would be in.
“I’m just so proud and happy for them,” Bingham said. “It’s the same systems we’ve had; it’s just the belief in themselves. That’s what I’ve been hoping for, and that makes me more proud than anything.”
White Pine still has plenty of work to do to lock up a playoff spot. The Bobcats currently sit in fourth place, with games looming against visiting Agassi Prep (5-1, 5-0) on Friday and at Mountain View (3-5, 2-3) on Oct. 28.
Still, the concept of being in playoff contention in late October has the Bobcats energized.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you’re playing for a playoff spot, considering last year we didn’t have this kind of opportunity in front of us,” quarterback Josh Ashby said. “To be able to get a playoff berth, it would be a great feeling to have.”
Ashby has had a huge hand in helping the Bobcats get up off the mat.
The strong-armed, 6-foot-4-inch junior is among Southern Nevada’s leaders with 1,388 passing yards and 16 touchdowns, while throwing only five interceptions.
Bingham knew he would have a talented athlete in Ashby, but he credited offensive assistant Chip Erekson with helping develop his signal caller.
“(Ashby) is making better decisions,” Bingham said. “Coach Erekson has him reading the defense; he doesn’t lock on. Our quarterbacks coach has made leaps and bounds with him, and our line is blocking for him.”
Ashby has several prime receivers to find in the Bobcats’ spread offense, with juniors Levi Valdez (24 catches, 481 yards, seven touchdowns) and Jake Johnson (16 catches, 370 yards, three TDs) leading the way.
Devante Valencia, Tyler Watts and Valdez lead a rushing attack-by-committee with a combined 605 yards and 11 TDs between the trio.
“It’s great to know that you have that kind of depth, to know that any player can change the game for you,” Ashby said.
Middle linebacker Clay Mauro has keyed a defense that has limited three of its last four opponents to 18 or fewer points. The junior leads the team with 68 tackles and 8 1/2 sacks, and Johnson tops the secondary with four interceptions.
White Pine has benefited from returning 13 players who started at least one game on either side of the ball last season, and those players appear to be growing up quickly.
“I think more people became dedicated to the program and just supportive of everyone else,” Ashby said.
Most of the team’s core leaders are juniors, giving Bingham hope his team can continue its rapid improvement next season. But unlike the past four years, the Bobcats are playing for more than pride and experience late in the season.
“We’ve got the help of the whole community, and that was my No. 1 goal — to turn the culture around,” Bingham said. “They’ve come so far from the beginning of the year. They’re finding a belief from within.”