Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.
* FRIDAY’S NORTHERN 4A REGIONAL football title game contains it all, even betrayal. I’ll let Damonte Ranch quarterback Cade McNamara, who faces Bishop Manogue for said title tonight, explain. He and his Mustangs teammates grew up playing with many of Manogue’s top players before they opted to play for the Miners after their eighth-grade season together. “Honestly, it’s huge motivation,” McNamara said. “For a lot of those kids who decided to play for Manogue instead of sticking with us, that’s something that made a lot of us angry, especially a lot of these seniors. We knew them. These are kids we played youth football with our whole lives and for them to – what we say betray us – that’s definitely motivated the last four years and for this game.”
* NOT PLAYING FOR THE SCHOOL you’re zoned for has become a major hot-button topic after Reno High’s Dan Avansino went on a halftime rant during his team’s playoff game against Manogue (he was fired three days later). This column will not be on that topic, but clearly Damonte Ranch, which has only 33 players on its varsity roster, is using it as fuel, although the Mustangs might not need that fuel after pasting the Miners, 63-28, in September despite McNamara playing with three broken bones. This rematch should be closer, although Damonte Ranch is a heavy favorite in what should be a high-scoring game. Here’s why it should be so fun.
* McNAMARA vs. DIXON: McNamara is the best quarterback in Reno’s history and Manogue’s Peyton Dixon could be the best running back in Reno’s history. McNamara is first in state history in touchdown passes (145) and Dixon, one of those guys who played with the Mustangs as a youth, has rushed for the most touchdowns in a season (37) for a Northern player. McNamara will play for Michigan next year. Dixon is bound for a to-be-determined FBS school. Manogue's sophomore QB Drew Scolari (Chris Ault’s grandson) could be an FBS player in time ,and Damonte Ranch RB Derrick Knoblock, who has 24 touchdowns and 101 tackles as a two-way player, is a stud as well. Lots of star power.
* HOWREN vs. DAMONTE: Manogue coach Ernie Howren won seven regional titles leading Reed High but the last time he made it to the regional championship game was 2016 when his team led Damonte Ranch, 31-7, at halftime before the Mustangs rallied for the 49-45 win to upset the five-time defending region champs. This is Howren’s first crack at a regional title since moving to Manogue prior to last season and his first chance to avenge that collapse against the Mustangs that cost him an eighth crown.
* GORMAN IS VULNERABLE: In the past, the Northern 4A title winner has just become an appetizer for Bishop Gorman, the Southern beast that has won nine straight state championships. It was so dire the North voted this offseason to kick Gorman up to a 5A level so it didn’t have to play the Gaels anymore (among North teams, only Manogue and Reed voted to move to 5A as well). The 5A never materialized, but Gorman has been vulnerable this season, so much so MaxPreps ranks Damonte Ranch as the No. 1 team in the state. Gorman is still 8-3 overall (6-0 versus Nevada teams) and would be a prohibitive favorite over Damonte Ranch or Manogue, but it’s not fait accompli Gorman rolls in the title game like years past.
* DAMONTE RANCH AND MANOGUE have clearly been the best teams in the North this season. Damonte Ranch was 9-0 against Northern Nevada teams, out-scoring them 511-69. Outside of its loss to Damonte Ranch, Manogue was 9-0 against Northern Nevada teams, out-scoring them 391-79. It’s only right these teams face each other for Northern Nevada supremacy, and it’s only right both teams are healthy after both being banged up in their first meeting. Damonte Ranch is the big favorite (probably by three touchdowns), but the Mustangs showed in 2016 it only takes one game for a major upset.
* KEVIN DURANT IS GOING to leave the Warriors after this season. It isn’t all about Draymond Green, who was suspended for a game this week for presumably not passing Durant the ball with the game on the line in a 121-116 overtime loss to the Clippers. That might be part of it. Green is a great jack-of-all-trades player, but I don’t think he’d be a ton of fun to be around on a daily basis. “I am never going to change who I am,” he said after his suspension, which was more about his verbal outburst directed at Durant than not passing him the ball. It’s more about Durant wanting to have a challenge at some point. Barring injury, the Warriors will gravy train to a third straight title this year but Durant will join LeBron and the Lakers next season. You can book it.
* I HATE TO SAY “I told you so” – actually I don’t; I love to say it because I was right – but I did call Jon Gruden’s hiring by the Raiders a disaster the day it happened. The proof? “Jon Gruden the Oakland Raiders' savior? Don't count on it.” The Raiders are an NFL-worst 1-8 and the future looks even more bleak given Gruden’s desire to trade every valuable piece outside of QB Derek Carr, who hasn’t looked the same since he broke his leg in 2016. Gruden has amassed a horde of first-round draft picks, but this isn’t the NBA, where if you land two or three great players in the draft you’re a championship contender. You need a full team with a great quarterback at the NFL level. The Raiders are tanking, but I doubt we see a payoff. I always doubt we see Gruden pass the halfway mark of his record 10-year, $100 million contract.
* IF YOU NEED PROOF everybody loves free stuff, just look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, who raided Le’Veon Bell’s locker after he did not show up Tuesday, the final day he could join the team and be eligible for the postseason. The Steelers players, many of whom are millionaires, rifled through the locker for his cleats, shirts and even mixtape CDs, per ESPN. Millionaires, they’re just like us!
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.