Both will play Northern 4A quarterfinal playoff games Friday night at 7 p.m. Here's a closer look at the matchups involving Sparks schools.
- Spanish Springs (5-4) at Carson (8-1) -
•It's been a tale of two seasons for Spanish Springs. The Cougars opened their fall campaign with five straight wins, the first time in the 10th-year school's history. However, the schedule toughened from there and the SSHS gridders dropped their next four games, including a pair of lopsided losses to end the season.
The recent woes have left Spanish Springs in a tailspin at the regular season's close. The Cougars went from fighting for a league championship, and possible home playoff game, to falling all the way to a seven seed for their postseason opener.
Still, fifth-year Cougars coach Scott Hare offers perspective.
“I think right now we're just at the point where we need to get a couple first downs,” he said. “It's really been more of a rough two weeks than four. The first two, McQueen and Carson, were just rough, hard-fought losses.”
He may be right. A 20-14 loss to McQueen started the skid and the Cougars led that game with just over a minute to go. A competitive 23-13 loss to Carson followed, but there's no sugar-coating 51-14 and 33-6 losses to Douglas and Reed the last two weeks.
Hare said his team has also been bitten by the injury bug as the season has rolled on, but he'd like to believe his team is pretty healthy as it gears up for a second go-round against Carson and that other fill-in players have matured into their roles.
“By no means is it an excuse because we're not playing well right now,” Hare said. “But we had seven guys starting against North Valleys (in our opener) that are not playing right now. There has been a lot of transition. We lost a guy who had eight sacks, leading northern Nevada. We've had to move guys around. Now those guys are more comfortable. That's changed the dynamic of what we wanted to do. Still, we have to read our keys and be physical. Those are things that at times we've gotten away from and teams have hurt us.”
The first meeting, three weeks ago at Spanish Springs, saw Carson take the 10-point win. Spanish Springs' fate was decided largely by two plays. One was a 45-yard interception return at the end of the first half that led to a Senators touchdown. The other was a fourth-and-one play where the Cougars were stuffed on the goal line and could not get into the end zone, coming up empty on a long drive.
Hare knows his club must be sharp, reduce its mistakes and limit Carson's big plays if it has any hopes of capturing the first playoff win in program history.
“We just have to clean up mistakes,” he said. “We didn't do much right against Reed last week, but the little we did, we'd follow it up by hurting ourselves. We can't make mistakes against good teams. They'll make you pay.”
Expect Carson to be better and likely more motivated than ever when kickoff time nears Friday. The Senators are expected to have their all-league tailback, Dylan Sawyers, back in the fold. He did not play against Spanish Springs in the previous meeting. Additionally, Carson blew a 17-0 lead with less than six minutes to go last week in their regular season finale against Reno. The loss ruined the Senators dreams of a perfect season.
“Reno played a full 48 minutes,” Hare said. “I bet you Carson people left, thinking it was over. I'm sure if Carson had it to do over again, it would play the last five minutes differently.”
- Douglas (4-5) at Reed (8-2) -
•Carson, McQueen and Reed ended up tying for the Northern 4A's league championship, each finishing 7-1 in league play. Unfortunately for Reed, the tiebreakers didn't go the RHS crew's way and the east Sparks squad was forced to settle for a No. 3 playoff seed.
The tiebreaker that hurt Reed involved the three tied schools getting points for each win of common opponents. Reed's big win of the year, a 28-7 romp over McQueen, was rendered meaningless because Carson and McQueen did not play this fall.
“Going into the season, we voted on tiebreakers," Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “We never knew how it would shake out, whether it would affect the fifth through eighth seeds or one, two and three. If it gets you, it gets you. You can't dwell on it. When I saw how first through third went I was a little frustrated, but not upset. We all knew going in what we signed up for. I thought about it for two minutes and moved on.”
Howren and his coaching staff moved on to thinking about Douglas, their first-round playoff opponent tonight. The two teams met two months ago when Reed took a 25-14 win in Minden. The game was the season opener for Douglas but the second game for Reed. While that game was basically a season ago, Howren said there are still things his coaches can take from the game film.
“You can always look at the film and see what schemes they played, what philosophy a team took in how they wanted to try and stop you and try to attack you,” Howren said. “Obviously, teams will change and throw some new wrinkles at you, but when you do play somebody earlier in the year, you do get an idea.
“The thing about Douglas that always puts them in this position every year is they don't change who they are. They don't change their philosophy. Douglas has always been a hard-nosed, physical football team. That's what they were in Week 1 and that's what they are now.”
Reed has won eight of its last nine outings, but more importantly has bounced back in fine fashion from the lone loss in that stretch, a surprising 41-14 defeat at Manogue last month. The Raiders have won three straight since, all by two touchdowns or more.
The Raiders recent strides are what have Howren gushing about his team.
“I definitely feel like we're doing a lot of things well right now,” he said. “The thing I'm most excited about is I've watched our kids and they've got great attitudes. They're excited. We're never satisfied with our execution on the field. We talk about things we can always do better.
“There's no doubt that in the last three weeks, the kids have been executing at a very high level. I really like where we're at right now.”
Reed's strong season has left it earning a home playoff game for the eighth straight season.
“Unfortunately, things worked out the way they did with the tiebreakers, but the kids did earn a first-round home playoff game. We'll go from here. It will be exciting to have the home crowd behind us. It's exciting for the kids and the whole school.”