Unfortunately for the Railroader faithful who hoped it would see Sparks win its 3A North league opener, Spring Creek had other ideas. The Spartans scored three unanswered touchdowns in the final five and a half minutes of the first half to steal the lead and never gave it back as the eastern Nevada school surged to a 50-29 victory Friday night.
A quick start by the Railroaders did have the home fans excited. Sparks put up seven points in 45 seconds on the second play of the game when junior quarterback Geo Vasquez connected with senior wide receiver Esteban Bravo for an 80-yard touchdown strike. The Spring Creek cornerback covering the play jumped too soon, and Bravo just waited for the ball to land in his hands. There was no catching Bravo after he hauled in the pass. He then tacked on the extra point.
After watching Spring Creek tie the game at 7-7 with a power running game that only needed five snaps to trek 80 yards on the ground, Sparks got back to business.
The Railroaders took a 13-7 lead on a 5-yard touchdown reception by Quinn Lightfoot at the 5:34 mark of the first quarter. However, the Sparks offense struggled the rest of the half, while Spring Creek’s did not.
“They were giving us something in the passing game and we took advantage of it,” Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell said. “After that, they softened up their coverage. That’s usually when you’re able to run the ball a little bit, and we didn’t. I give them credit. They were more aggressive up front.”
Spring Creek running back Ryan Hoyos nearly eclipsed the century mark in the first 12 minutes, racking up 99 yards on just nine first-quarter carries, including a 40-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 7-7 after three minutes of play. Hoyos went over 100 yards on the ground on the first play of the second quarter — a 14-yard run. However, the Spartans’ drive stalled in Sparks territory.
Still, the punt and a penalty pinned the Railroaders on their own 3.
Three plays later, an end around to Ramon Covarrubias resulted in two points for Spring Creek when a pair of defenders penetrated the backfield and took out Covarrubias’ legs in the end zone.
Momentum appeared to shift to the visiting sideline when the ensuing free kick was returned to the Sparks 29. A sack on the first play pushed the Spartans back six yards. Colby Patton eventually lined up to try a 47-yard field goal but his kick drilled the middle of the line and bounced backward, setting up Sparks on its own 49.
The Railroaders drove down to the Spartans’ 13 before Vasquez was pressured on third down and jumped up to make a pass. He floated the ball to Bravo for a 13-yard touchdown reception. The PAT made it 20-9 with 5:23 to go in the first half.
That left plenty of time for Spring Creek, which was helped by Hoyos’ kickoff return to the SHS 3. Josh Hull punched it in from 3 yards out. Shawn Sandoval caught a pass from QB Travis Spring for the two-point conversion, cutting the deficit to 20-17.
After forcing a three-and-out on defense, Spring Creek took over on its 36. Three runs by Steeler Adams, ending with a 30-yard touchdown run, gave the Spartans a 23-20 lead, their first advantage of the league contest.
With only 2:47 remaining in the first half, it looked like the home team would have to go back into the locker room trailing by a field goal. But after a quick possession, Sparks had to punt again and Spring Creek capitalized.
Hoyos capped the scoring drive by finding pay dirt from 12 yards out with 14 seconds left on the clock. Spring Creek took a 29-20 lead into the intermission after riding Hoyos for over 160 rushing yards.
That string of three unanswered scoring drives turned into four straight and then five once the third quarter began.
“It seemed like the entire second quarter they had us pinned deep,” Kittrell said. “That kind of limits your offense, especially if you’re not running the ball well. The second half we came out and did better defensively and just couldn’t get it going offensively.”
An interception set up Spring Creek on the Sparks side of the 50. On fourth-and-8 from the 30, Spring tossed up a jump ball for wide receiver Tavin Archuleta, who pulled it down and tumbled into the end zone for a 36-20 score just past the midway point of the third period.
An interception by Jacob McLeod — the first of his two picks on the night — again allowed the Spartans to start a scoring drive with a short field. Archuleta caught another jump ball, converting a third-and-7 play. This time, he was brought down at the Sparks 7. Two plays later, Spring took it in on a naked bootleg for a 7-yard TD scamper. With 1:07 remaining in the third quarter, Spring Creek jumped ahead 43-20 with the extra point.
The Railroaders ended the Spartans’ streak of 34 straight points when Bravo booted a 46-yard field goal that could have easily cleared 56 yards, making it 43-23 with 8:01 to go in the game.
The Spartans put up 50 points on the scoreboard with 3:30 to play after Hull went 54 yards down the right sideline.
The Railroaders got six more points on a last-second touchdown catch by Covarrubias from 7 yards out.
Sparks (0-2, 0-1 in 3A North) is back in action Friday night on the road at Fernley.