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Cubs defy critics by returning to playoffs in 2013

Linebacker Alex Avalos (46) was part of a senior class that led the Nevada football program back to the Class 2A playoffs in 2013. It marked the first team a Nevada team had ever made back-to-back playoff appearances. Photo by Joe Randleman
Linebacker Alex Avalos (46) was part of a senior class that led the Nevada football program back to the Class 2A playoffs in 2013. It marked the first team a Nevada team had ever made back-to-back playoff appearances. Photo by Joe Randleman
Junior tailback Chase Dobson ran for a school-record 2,057 yards and 18 touchdowns behind the excellent blocking of Alex Merfeld (56) and the rest of the Cub offensive line. Photo by Joe Randleman
Junior tailback Chase Dobson ran for a school-record 2,057 yards and 18 touchdowns behind the excellent blocking of Alex Merfeld (56) and the rest of the Cub offensive line. Photo by Joe Randleman

Not much was expected from the Nevada football program in 2013.

Coming off its first winning season since 1992 and its first playoff appearance since 1986, Nevada had to replace nearly every starter from its 2012 team. The loss of last year’s talented senior class had many thinking the Cubs would return to struggling the way they had prior to last season.

But that didn’t happen.

Led by a record-breaking running back, Nevada managed to reload just fine. The Cubs struggled with the toughest part of their schedule early, but they finished the regular season strong to earn a playoff spot for the second year in a row.

“Overall the season was a smashing success,” Nevada head coach John Pelzer said. “As we told the players many times, not many people except them and the coaches believed they could make it back to the playoffs returning zero full-time starters from the previous season. The fact that we did speaks volumes about the players and the coaching staff. We returned fewer players than all 10 of our opponents, but found a way to contend for the state playoffs.”

Nevada ended up 4-6 overall and the Cubs finished fourth in Class 2A District 7 with a 3-3 record. Last season Nevada went 6-5 overall and 4-2 in the district.

The Cubs began their 2013 season with an impressive 24-14 home victory over South Tama. But the schedule quickly got much tougher as the Cubs faced four playoff teams in their next five games.

Nevada fell at Bondurant-Farrar by a 48-12 score in week two and then lost its district opener at Gilbert by a 25-6 margin. The Cubs were blanked by top-5 power West Marshall, 35-0, in their next game and then their season hit rock-bottom with a 49-20 home loss to a Collins-Maxwell-Baxter team that fell short of making the playoffs.

Pelzer said poor work ethic in the offseason showed during that early stretch. He gave the team a long pep talk following the CMB loss, and that proved to be the pivotal turning point in the season.

Nevada suffered its fifth-straight loss the next week at North Polk on the first game on the new Comet turf field. But the Cubs gave a tremendous effort against a Comet team that ended up 9-2 as Nevada led in the second half before coming out on the short end of a 48-29 decision.

The strong performance in defeat carried over into week seven as the Cubs snapped their losing streak by outlasting South Hardin at home, 34-27. Nevada then blasted East Marshall by a 55-17 score on the road to set up a home game with Roland-Story to determine the fourth and final playoff qualifier from the district.

The game was back and forth early, but Nevada eventually started to wear down the Norsemen in the second half. The Cubs pulled away for a very satisfying 42-26 victory to give the program consecutive playoff berths for the first time ever.

“One of my biggest highlights was seeing the resilience of our players and coaches as we came off that five-game losing streak to win three pressure-filled district games in a row and make the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in school history,” Pelzer said.

In the opening round of the 2A playoffs, Nevada went up against No. 1 Kuemper Catholic. The Cubs didn’t have the horses to run with the eventual 2A state champions, falling by a 49-7 score at Perry.

A potent running game was the driving force behind Nevada’s success.

The Cubs had to replace all but one lineman from last year, and they still churned out three all-district linemen in Alex Merfeld, Jake Kapustka (the lone returning lineman) and Aaron McCarville. The performance of the Cub line allowed junior tailback Chase Dobson to deliver the greatest individual effort by a running back in Nevada history.

Coming off a 1,162-yard season as a sophomore, Dobson took his game to a whole new level in 2013. The talented back became the first Cub to top 2,000 yards, finishing with a stunning 2,057 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing on 231 carries for an impressive average of 8.9 yards per rush.

“Individually I am proud of Chase for rushing for 100-plus yards in all 10 of our games,” Pelzer said. “But he could not have done this without the help of the rest of the offense.”

Not only did Dobson run for over 100 yards in every game, he topped the 200-yard mark seven times, including the Cubs’ final six games. Dobson also caught four passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns and he completed one pass for 24 yards.

Senior fullback Riley Huhn used his tough, physical inside running to provide a nice complement to Dobson’s big-play slashing and outside running. Huhn picked up 368 yards and two touchdowns on 75 carries and he also caught two passes for 21 yards.

Patrick Stephenson backed up Dobson and ran for 200 yard and one touchdown on 28 carries and added two catches for 43 yards as a senior. Dayne Sly added 103 yards on 26 carries sparing Huhn at fullback and sophomore Peyton Sharp added 60 yards and one touchdown on just five carries.

Brandon Burke replaced talented dual-threat quarterback Colynn Black as Nevada’s signal caller this season.

Burke did a solid job managing the offense in his senior season. He completed 32 of 63 passes for 492 yards with eight touchdowns and only five interceptions and also ran for 78 yards and one touchdown.

Senior T.J. Fey was Burke’s top target at receiver as he caught 15 passes for 223 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Joel Olson made 10 grabs for 122 yards and two touchdowns and Sharp tacked on one 41-yard reception.

As a team Nevada averaged 286.8 yards rushing and 342.5 in total offense. The Cubs also averaged 22.9 points per game.

On defense the Cubs yielded 33.8 points and 415.1 yards per game. Nevada forced 12 turnovers and totaled eight sacks on the season.

“At times we were inconsistent with both our run and pass defense,” Pelzer said.

Stephenson was an all-district performer at linebacker. He had 83 tackles, six tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions and a fumble recovery for a touchdown on the year.

Huhn and Traye Pelzer also played well at linebacker.

Huhn finished with 66 tackles, one tackle for loss and two fumble recoveries. Pelzer tallied 55 tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception.

Erik Fevold made 47 tackles and two stops behind the line, Jake Barker had 46 tackles, for tackles for loss and a fumble recovery and Sharp and Nolan Stahl each chipped in 30 tackles. Sharp also had one interception.

McCarville finished with 29 stops and one sack and Dobson had 23 tackles, six tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. Sly recorded 18 tackles and three tackles for loss.

Kapustka, Kyle Coogler and Kyle Chaska each mad 17 tackles, Emir Murphy totaled 14, Alex Avalos finished with 13, Merfeld recorded 12 and Fey ended up with 10. Chaska and Merfeld each added two sacks and Merfeld also recovered a fumble, Murphy had one sack and Fey came away with an interception.

Burke also intercepted a pass for Nevada on defense.

Special teams play was a strength for Nevada.

Fevold handled the place-kicking duties and he made 23 of 28 extra points and two field goals, with a long of 45 yards. Dobson handled the punting duties and he averaged 35.7 yards on 35 punts.

In the return game Stephenson averaged 26.1 yards and scored one touchdown on 16 kickoff returns.

Pelzer said he greatly appreciated the effort his senior class gave to keep the program on an upward swing.

“I was especially happy with this group of seniors who have existed in the shadow of a talented senior class that graduated before them,” Pelzer said. “With the help of the juniors and sophomores this class an accomplishment they can truly be proud of – becoming the first Nevada team to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons.”

Next season Nevada has the opportunity to keep the ball rolling and make another playoff run. But Pelzer stressed a better work ethic between now and the start of the season is needed in order for that to happen.

“My expectation for next season is not to repeat our poor performance in the off-season portion of our training,” Pelzer said. “It can be a great season or not – as I told the players the choice is yours.”

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