All three of the Rail City’s prep gridiron programs have been in that boat in recent years but they were bailed out by a much easier effort this time around. The Sparks schools had their football schedules finished well before the summer months rolled around this year.
In fact, Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell did not have to do much of any work on his schedule. The Northern 3A master schedule gives teams eight league games and a non-league game against independent Wooster. That left Kittrell with one open date and this happens to be the second year of a home-and-home series with Yerington.
Kittrell’s scheduling efforts consisted of looking over an email with the 3A North master schedule attached and making a call to Yerington officials to confirm their club would return the trip to SHS after the Railroaders opened last year in Lyon County.
Kittrell much prefers having an easy time of it, like this year, rather than making countless calls to potential opponents, hoping he’d find someone looking for a contest.
“This was a lot simpler,” Kittrell said. “When you’ve got the schedule done, it allows you to focus on other stuff. Plus, you don’t have to try and raise a bunch of money to go play in a non-league game somewhere.”
Sparks opens its season Aug. 26 at home against Yerington and then gets into 3A North League play the following week (9/2) with a home game against Spring Creek. The game against Spring Creek starts a run of eight straight weeks against 3A North foes before the Railroader gridders wrap up their regular season with a non-league affair against Wooster Oct. 27.
Sparks does not have a bye during its 2011 campaign.
“Byes are good if you have injuries,” Kittrell said. “But other than that, it’s hard to keep the kids motivated for two weeks. They need a game every week to give them something to look forward to. It keeps them going hard, keeps them crisp.”
Sparks will play six home games and four away games. That was the opposite a year ago. The Railroaders have a tough stretch of three weeks where they get Truckee (9/17), Fallon (9/23) and Lowry (9/30) all in a row. Kittrell said that stretch could define his club.
“Right in the middle, we get those three games back-to-back-to-back,” the veteran SHS coach said. “Those are teams I anticipate making a run at the league crown. Last year in those three games we didn’t fare too well. Our returners will have a good feel for what’s coming. We’ll have to be at the top of our game by Sept. 17.”
In the Northern 4A ranks, this is the year, in a three-year rotating cycle, where schools can schedule 10 games over an 11-week span. That means Northern 4A Sparks schools Reed and Spanish Springs will both play their maximum of 10 games and still get a bye week.
Reed’s bye week comes in Week 2 (Sept. 2) while Spanish Springs’ open date is set for Week 8 (Oct. 14).
“If I’m going to take a bye week, I’d rather have it early,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “That’s when you’re still trying to sort things out. That way you have an extra week to keep working on the things that need it. I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out this year.”
Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare did not have any complaints either.
“If I can get 10 games, I like a bye,” Hare said. “It’s tough if you get stuck with a bye and only nine games. Football is pretty much a year round sport. You need to get the kids 10 games. I’m not anti-bye. I’m just anti-not-getting-10-games.”
Both Reed and Spanish Springs will open their 2011 slates with tough east-side suburban Sacramento opponents. Reed will host Granite Bay Aug. 26 while Spanish Springs will go to Del Oro on the same night.
Granite Bay beat a traveling Reed team, 42-24, in both schools’ season opener last fall. Spanish Springs and Del Oro have never met.
“We got to play Granite Bay early last year and I felt it taught us a lot about where we were as a team,” Howren said. “They have a heck of a team coming up. I expect it to be a great challenge. We feel like we have a good team, and so do they, so it should make for a great game.”
After its clash with Granite Bay, Reed gets its bye week before returning to action Sept. 9 in a non-league game at home against Douglas. Reed then begins its Northern 4A League schedule Sept. 16 at home against Hug.
The Raiders kick off their season with three straight home games. Only four of the RHS crew’s 10 games are on the road.
“I’ve always felt like if you want to be a good football team, you have to win on the road,” Howren said. “This year, early in the season, we’ve got a lot of home games. Early on that can be good thing, but as the year goes on, it will be nice to get on the road too.”
For Spanish Springs, the Cougars follow up their Del Oro opener by hosting North Valleys in a non-league game in Week 2 (9/2). The SSHS squad will open league play in Week 3 (9/9) at Hug.
The first half of Spanish Springs’ league schedule is lined up with games against teams that have struggled recently while the back half is packed with perennial powers. The setup is the same this year.
A year ago, Spanish Springs opened its season with five straight wins only to drop its last five. The Cougars will conclude their regular season with games against traditionally tough McQueen, Carson, Douglas and Reed.
“I like it,” Hare said. “I liked it last year too. It just didn’t work out for us. I don’t mind that stretch. It prepares you for the playoffs.”
Until last year, local rivals Spanish Springs and Reed had never met on the final week of the regular season, which is usually set aside for rivalry games. The two schools will line up in their regular season finales once again this fall — at Spanish Springs, Nov. 4.
“I love having Reed the last week of the season,” Hare said.
Howren had similar sentiments.
“It’s great, but the one good thing about playing Spanish Springs, it doesn’t really matter when you play it,” Howren said. “Both programs will be up for it. Having it at the end of the season means there may be more playoff implications on the line. That might add to the flavor of the whole thing, but it’s going to be a great game whenever it is during the year.”