Tonopah’s chances of returning to the Class 1A state football playoffs looked cloudy after an 0-4 start.
Under first-year coach Duffy Otteson, the rebuilding Muckers had taken a 58-8 home beating from rival Pahranagat Valley and were riddled with injuries.
“There were a lot of doubters out there,” Otteson said. “There’s still a lot of doubters about our football team.”
Not as many as there used to be.
Tonopah (6-4) won six straight games heading into its 1A state semifinal at Coleville (10-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“I think the biggest thing that happened as far as the turnaround is, our offensive line really stepped up,” Otteson said. “They took it to a whole new level (with) what they were doing.”
Otteson pointed to guards Dan Arias and Tommy Boni, as well as center Travis Smalley, as showing dramatic improvement.
They’ve paved the way for senior quarterback Denver Otteson, Duffy’s younger brother, who has excelled in running the Muckers’ shotgun option/pistol offense.
Denver Otteson leads the Muckers in rushing (1,545 yards, 18 touchdowns) and passing (820 yards, 10 TDs). He’s also a standout linebacker, with 147 tackles, 5.5 sacks and three interceptions.
“As a coach, you always want to see somebody stand out on the team,” Duffy Otteson said. “He’s definitely taken it upon himself to help this team as much as possible.”
Coming off a 36-8 quarterfinal win over Spring Mountain, Tonopah faces a tougher test in Coleville.
The Wolves have outscored opponents 774-86 this season, including a 108-30 win over Mineral County on Oct. 17.
Duffy Otteson said it will be key for Tonopah to play physical and establish the running game early.
“You’ve got to make your own tempo in the game,” he said. “You can’t let their offense dictate what’s going to happen. We’re going to try to eat up a lot of clock. We’ve got to run the ball.”
Coleville coach Will Sandy said the Wolves are enjoying their best two-year run since the early 1990s.
The Wolves finished 9-2 last season, ending with a 128-74 1A state semifinal loss to Pahranagat Valley. The Panthers set a national eight-man scoring record in the win.
“They always say defense wins championships, and I think we proved that beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sandy said. “We scored 74 points and got killed.”
But Sandy said his defense, which operates out of a 3-3 base, has improved considerably since the record-setting loss. The Wolves have pitched five shutouts this season, and forced seven turnovers against Carlin.
“The athletic ability we’ve shown on offense, we’re showing on defense as well,” Sandy said.
Despite the defensive improvement, Coleville remains an offensive juggernaut.
Four-year starting quarterback Jason Peters has flourished at the helm of a spread offense Sandy said is designed to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
Peters has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,577 yards and 36 TDs without an interception. The 6-foot-2-inch senior is also the Wolves’ second-leading rusher, with 645 yards and 19 TDs.
“It’s unbelievable,” Sandy said of the Wolves’ offensive statistics. “We’ve had stretches of games where we’ve scored on every possession, which is hard for me to comprehend.”
Sandy said a chance for his team to play in the state title game Nov. 21 would mean “everything.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a group that deserves it more,” he said. “They’re just good kids that work their tails off.”