Spanish Springs was staring at a 21-14 deficit coming out of halftime, but it did get the ball first in the third quarter. That didn't really pay off as Cougars quarterback Hunter Fralick, who has already given his verbal commitment to play his collegiate football at Nevada, threw a ball into the hands of North Valleys linebacker Cody Falls, who returned it 52 yards for a Panthers score.
At that time, Spanish Springs was working under the premise it needed to win by 13 points to gain a tiebreaker advantage over the Panthers. The pick six gave North Valleys a 28-14 lead less than a minute into the second half.
However, all was not lost for the Purple and Silver faithful. Their beloved Cougars showed some gumption. Spanish Springs got the ball back after the turnover and marched 81 yards for a score, the touchdown coming on a 24-yard pass from Fralick to Trevor Listman on a fourth-and-6 play. The key score got the SSHS gridders within 28-21 and started the string of 34 straight points.
"In the second half, we got in our five-receiver set, let Hunter take control of the game and he did," Cougars coach Scott Hare said. "We got our coaching staff and our guys in sync and it worked out well."
Despite that touchdown, Spanish Springs probably did not have the momentum yet. However, it didn't take long for the Sparks school to get it. On the corresponding North Valleys possession, Cougars linebacker Jacob Allen dropped back into coverage and snatched away a pass by Panthers QB Daniel Lewis. Allen returned the interception 14 yards to the Panthers' 38 and set the Cougars up in prime position to score again.
They did just that on a 27-yard scoring scamper by Fralick. Still, the Cougars trailed, 28-27, after a botched extra-point kick at the third quarter's 4:19 mark.
"Our defense stayed with its assignments and we made some good adjustments. We moved to a 3-4 defense and squeezed the middle," Hare said. "The kids responded. Jacob Allen's interception was the play of the game. That started the momentum. He fell back on a curl and made a play we had to have."
Spanish Springs took the lead when Gehrig Parks got behind the North Valleys secondary and brought down a 25-yard TD pass from Fralick three minutes later. The Cougars led 34-28 at that point. Parks caught 10 balls for 74 yards.
Both teams punted on their next possessions but the wheels fell off the North Valleys wagon when its return man fumbled a punt and the Cougars recovered at the Panthers' 34. Spanish Springs extended its lead to 41-28 when Fralick hit Parks on a fade pattern in the corner of the end zone with 7:43 remaining in the contest.
"The fade route to Gehrig was the first option," Fralick said. "I was going to my best friend. I knew if threw it up there, he'd come down with it."
The Cougars' final touchdown of the night came when Fralick bolted 34 yards on a keeper on a fourth-and-1 play from the NVHS 34. The Cougs then led 48-28 with 3:05 left on the game clock.
Fralick finished his night 26-of-39 passing for 243 yards with three TDs and one INT. He also rushed for 173 yards on 25 carries.
North Valleys tacked on a touchdown in the waning seconds of the game, accounting for the final 48-35 score.
"I'd say we totally collapsed," North Valleys coach Ty Gregg said. "On offense, we didn't get a first down for more than two quarters. We couldn't get anything going. Give credit to their guys, but we certainly made our share of mistakes ... You have to be able to withstand making some mistakes and tonight we didn't do that."
While the second half was all Cougars, the first half was a lot Panthers. North Valleys took its 21-14 lead into the locker room at halftime by playing a strong first 24 minutes. The north Reno school got the ball to open the game and had little trouble marching into the end zone. It needed seven plays to go 64 yards for a quick 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest. The Panthers' touchdown came on an 8-yard run by Lewis.
Minutes later, North Valleys looked like its drive had stalled but the Panthers got a 32-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to Micah Miller-Hood on a fourth-and-23 play. The Panthers went on top 14-0 after the sequence that still left 2:02 on the first-quarter clock.
After a sloppy offensive performance through most of the first quarter, the Cougars began to find some rhythm. The SSHS squad put together a 74-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 7-yard touchdown scamper by Fralick at the 11:10 mark of the second quarter.
Spanish Springs tried to catch North Valleys sleeping and went for an on-side kick, but the Panthers recovered and cashed in. On their first play, Lewis got loose down the sideline and bolted 52 yards down to the SSHS 6-yard line. Two players later, he plunged across the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown run that helped the Panthers forge ahead 21-7 with 10:01 to go before the half.
Spanish Springs was unfazed. It answered on its next possession, taking advantage of a short field. The Cougars started on their own 42 and used seven plays to cover the 58 yards to pay dirt. Running back Cobi Maehara handled the scoring chores with a 3-yard touchdown run and the hosts trailed 21-14 with 6:54 left before the break.
The Cougars got the ball back two more times before halftime but could not move the ball and the 21-14 margin remained intact into halftime.
The win clinches a playoff berth for Spanish Springs (4-4, 2-2), which wraps up its regular season next Friday at Reed (7-1, 3-1) at 7 p.m.
"This feels good," Cougars linebacker Roman Lawlor said. "We came out in the second half and did what we needed to do. Our team came together in the second half."