ALAMO — It was late Friday afternoon, and rain clouds were building over the mesas and mountaintops east of U.S. Route 93 in south-central Nevada.
The sage smelled sweet.
The cashier at the Sinclair filling station and general store in this community of about 1,000 ranchers and other friendly folks was ringing up a copy of the Lincoln County Record.
There was a front-page story about the high school football season opener pitting Pahranagat Valley against Wells, the visitors from up near the Idaho border.
“You goin’ to the game?” a man from the city asked Nicole the checkout girl.
“I have a meeting tonight,” she said.
“But this is the big one,” the man from the city said. “Ninety-four wins in a row! The one for the eight-man high school football record book.”
Nicole the checkout girl looked a little sheepish when the magnitude of the occasion was explained.
She said her meeting probably would be over by halftime, and that she most likely would catch the second half.
By halftime, Pahranagat Valley led 46-0. At the end of the game, after the big dogs of Nevada eight-man football wearing the blue and gold uniforms were called off in a most magnanimous gesture, it was 54-8.
So this was it, win number 94 in succession for coach Ken Higbee, and a bunch of other Higbees, and a bunch of friendly folks sitting in the little stadium that Ken Higbee helped build with his own two hands.
This was the one for the record book — it moved the Panthers onto the top line all by themselves; it moved the eight-man side from Shattuck, Oklahoma, onto the second line. Shattuck, which had a 93-game winning streak from 2003 to 2009, opens its season Saturday against Corn Bible Academy.
There’s a certain charm to eight-man football played in the small towns of America. Starting with the names of the opponents.
For every teeming metropolis, there are dozens of dot-on-the-road map towns, and there is high school football that unifies them. It’s like a barn raising every Friday night.
The dot on the map called Alamo has a post office and a library and a Mormon church and two filling stations and a grill inside the Sinclair station called Chester’s Chicken to Go. A little south of town there is a wildlife refuge; a few miles to the north is an extraterrestrial highway. No, none of the friendly folks with whom I spoke has ever seen a little green man.
Alamo also is home to an out-of-this-world eight-man football team. Out here, E.T. doesn’t phone home. He phones in a good play for third-and-long.
Pahranagat Valley’s prep football winning streak is the third-longest on record, regardless of classification.
The 11-man standard belongs to mighty De La Salle from the Oakland, California, suburbs, which won 151 in a row from 1992 to 2003. There were more than 25,000 spectators at Qwest Field in Seattle when the Spartans lost 39-20 to Bellevue from Washington in the 2004 season opener, ending the streak.
They showed the highlights on ESPN.
ESPN did not make it to Alamo on Friday night. But two years ago, NBC correspondent Harry Smith walked the sidelines during Pahranagat Valley’s victory over the Muckers from Tonopah. That was win No. 72 in the streak.
The Panthers’ last defeat was 26-24 to Carlin in the 2007 state semifinals. It hasn’t been an entire generation of Higbees since Pahranagat Valley last lost a football game, but it seems like it.
So this was a night to celebrate a fantastic achievement. It also was a night to look back at the bizarre turn of events that nearly ended the streak last September.
The Panthers stopped a gadget play against the Thatcher (California) Toads on fifth-and-12 from the Pahranagat 25-yard line to escape with a 34-30 victory.
That’s right. Fifth-and-12.
The guys on the chain gang apparently became confused during the final series and forgot to switch the down marker. It happens sometimes in eight-man football.
Ken Higbee, a tireless and unassuming molder of young men — Higbee’s father, Vaughn, was the Panthers’ first football coach; Ken’s brother, Brian, is one of his assistants; Ken’s son, Christian, is a running back/linebacker on this year’s team; Ken’s nephew, Garett, is an interior lineman — did not complain. Quite the contrary, he said it was a well-officiated game.
“The streak is completely secondary to everything we are doing.” Higbee said after the Panthers stopped that double reverse and again on the field before Friday’s game. “It’s (about) more than football here. It’s about these kids.”
The next day after that win against Thatcher, it was about taking his kids to the beach.
But Friday, it was mostly about football, and about molding young men, and getting the Panthers’ reserves some quality playing time in the second half — the second-stringers work hard in practice, too, Ken Higbee told his players at halftime.
It never did rain in Alamo, and there really wasn’t a whole lot of fanfare about the Panthers setting the winning-streak record. But everybody agreed the sage up here smelled awfully sweet.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski