Reed locked up a High Desert League championship, its fourth straight, by drumming Spanish Springs 47-14 at SSHS Thursday in the regular season finale for both schools.
Spanish Springs (7-3, 3-2) trimmed Reed's lead to 19-14 after it got a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown from Vance Lively with 1:08 remaining before halftime.
Unfortunately for the host Cougars, they left their guests the minute plus to put more points on the board. Reed did just that. The visitors (7-3, 5-0) needed only 21 seconds. The Raiders added a 14-yard Devin Gray touchdown reception with 47 ticks left before the intermission and held a 26-14 edge at the break.
Gray provided more heroics. He returned the opening kickoff of the second half 89 yards for a touchdown. In a span of about a minute, the Raiders got two touchdowns from their big play receiver and return man to blow the annual Rail City rivalry game wide open.
"I thought that kickoff return really hurt," Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. "Even though they scored at the end of the first half, we felt pretty good at halftime. We talked about getting a stop and score and that we'd be right there."
The Raiders led 33-14 after Gray's return, and they didn't let up. Reed got a 42-yard touchdown from Ty Shepard on its first offensive possession of the third quarter. That came with five and a half minutes to go in the third quarter.
Shepard had a big night. In addition to the one touchdown catch, he carried the ball 18 times and racked up 162 rushing yards.
The RHS club tacked on its final touchdown of the night when Trae Wells got into the end zone on a 13-yard scoring scamper at the 11:07 mark of the fourth quarter.
Spanish Springs did grab the early momentum. After a Reed punt, Spanish Springs took over at its own 45. The Cougars got on the scoreboard first as QB Hunter Fralick hit Lively on a 4-yard TD pass to cap the 55-yard drive. The SSHS gridders had a 7-0 lead with 4:27 to go in the initial quarter.
Reed proceeded to take control of the contest by ripping off the next 19 points. The Raiders answered the Cougars' early score with one of their own, a 4-yard Shepard run. Reed marched 94 yards for the score, but the extra-point kick failed and the hosts still led 7-6 with 1:39 left in the first quarter.
The big play helped Reed on its next possession. Gray hauled in a 49-yard TD pass after dragging a Cougars tackler the last three yards into the end zone. Gray finished with seven catches for 112 receiving yards.
Next, Reed really got going. Spanish Springs return man Ryder Lowry returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to Reed's 45, but he coughed up the pigskin and Reed recovered.
The Raiders cashed in soon after. RHS senior receiver Brett Chaney sat down over the middle and was wide open. He grabbed a Mark Nowaczewski pass and ran away from two SSHS tacklers as Reed forged ahead 19-7.
"Mark was rolling out and I saw the look on his face," Chaney said. "So I went the other way and found a hole. I turned around, thinking I was going to get hit. I saw a bunch of open field and I took off."
The 19-7 margin looked like it would be the halftime score, but both teams scored their touchdowns in the final 68 seconds of the first half, setting the stage for Reed's game-sealing spurt of points.
Nowaczewski turned in a stellar performance for Reed, completing 14 of 17 pass attempts for 228 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 13 carries for 76 yards.
While the Reed offense was busy putting up big play after big play, the Reed defense was busy bending and not breaking. The Spanish Springs offense moved up and down the field throughout the conference clash, but aside from its second possession of the game, failed to score.
"They kind of got us on our heels with that first score, but the second score was on special teams," Reed linebacker Drew Bryant said. "Our defense was flying around. We were trying not to get beat on the outside. We wanted to play fast and physical."
Veteran Raiders coach Ernie Howren had plenty of praise for his Raiders defensive unit.
"Defensively, our guys did what they've done all year. Our coaches did a great job. The kids trusted each other and the scheme ... We knew we'd have to minimize the big play."
Thursday's contest could have been big for Spanish Springs. Had the Cougars recorded a shutout win, they would have won the HDL title.
"Reed was better than us tonight," Hare said. "They have been in these types of games before. We're still learning how to play in these types of games and hopefully there are more in our future. I'm sure it was business as usual at Reed today while we had quite the buzz all day at school."
For Spanish Springs, Fralick was 23-of-39 through the air for 221 yards, which included one TD and one pick. Lively had eight receptions for 93 yards. Jeff Jurgensmeier got 19 carries and finished with 65 yards.
Both Spanish Springs and Reed will open the Division I North's regional playoffs Nov. 2. Reed, the HDL's top seed will host Sierra League No. 4 seed Douglas. Spanish Springs, the HDL's No. 3 seed will travel to SL No. 2 seed Manogue.