High school football teams usually hit the gridiron on Friday night, but only one Rail City squad will do so this week. In a rare format, the local clubs all play on different days. Reed hosts Hug tonight at 7:30 p.m. Spanish Springs hosts Galena Friday at 7 p.m. and on Saturday, Sparks travels to Truckee, Calif. for a 1:30 p.m. tilt.
Here’s a closer look at those games.
- Hug (0-3) at Reed (1-1) -
•On paper, this looks likes a mismatch, a game featuring one of the North’s best programs — Reed — against another North school coming off a bad season and struggling once again through the first third of a new year — Hug.
But Reed, under 11th-year coach Ernie Howren, has never been a team to take another lightly and don’t expect it to happen this week, especially since it’s a short week as the two teams meet on Thursday.
“Any time you’re prepping for a team, you want as many days as you can get,” Howren said. “We all know games are typically played on Fridays, so a shortened week makes it more stressful for everyone involved.”
A shortage of northern Nevada high school football officials has forced once game a week to be moved up from Friday to Thursday. The Reed-Hug contest got that call this week.
So how have Reed coaches approached the short practice week from a strategic standpoint?
“We don’t increase practice time,” Howren said. “We try to shorten every period but still make sure we’re hitting on the things we like to hit on, on a weekly basis. At this time of year, it’s all about your routine. You want to try and stay as close to that as you can. We’ll take four days of practice and try to package it in three days.
“You’d like to have these types of short weeks toward the end of the season. For instance, on the Nevada Day weekend, we’re all used to playing on a short week. At that point, if you don’t have your stuff in, it won’t matter. It is better to have a short week then if you’re going to have one, but early in the season, when there’s still a lot of work to do on your schemes and techniques, that makes it much more difficult.”
The good news for Reed is Hug faces the same short turnaround from its last game, a 40-14 loss to Spanish Springs six days ago. Howren said his Raiders offense had better be prepared to face a myriad of defensive fronts because the Hawks will certainly show them.
“Offensively, we have to be ready for multiple fronts from their defensive line and linebackers,” he stressed. “They will run four and five-man fronts. They are really good at mixing it up and giving you different looks. Any time you run into different fronts, a team is trying to mess with your blocking schemes and confuse your lineman up front.
“Because we run a spread offense, a lot of teams feel like they have to run multiple fronts to confuse our guys, but we’ve been fortunate. Our guys over the last couple years have done a great job of managing the plays.”
Reed opened the season with a tough loss to a tough Granite Bay, Calif. team and then had to sit around an extra week before getting to compete again as its bye week came in Week 2. The Raiders came out with a vengeance when they returned to the field, waxing Douglas 47-30 a week ago in a game that wasn’t that close.
The Raiders could not have bounced back much better than they did after the down time.
“In so many ways, that was a good win,” Howren said. “Coming off a loss, we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths. I thought it was important to get on the winning track now before we go into our league schedule. So that was huge for us.”
- Galena (0-3) at Spanish Springs (2-1) -
•Friday’s affair between the two schools may be a bit of trap game for Spanish Springs. The host Cougars are beginning to feel good about themselves once again. They started the season with great expectations but were humbled in a 55-14 defeat to northern California power Del Oro only to bounce back in back-to-back wins since. Conversely, Galena sits 0-3 and was shutout last week by an up and down Reno team.
That would lead some to believe Spanish Springs may be set up for a one-sided win, but that may not be the case. Galena is a team that has perennially improved at an amazing pace each and every fall. The Grizzlies coaching staff has earned a reputation as a group that gets the most out of its players. To think the Grizz would pack it in after a tough loss rather than bounce back would probably be a mistake.
“Galena has been doing the same things all six years I’ve been here,” Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. “They are always coached. They don’t do a lot of things, but what they do, they do well. They are very good at blocking in the trenches. I’m always impressed how their kids are in the right spots doing the right things. They are just always technically sound.”
Hare said his team is a work in progress but he admits that’s OK. He likes that his kids have committed to getting better each week, that they’ve bought into getting better rather than competing against a random opponent each week. Still, he knows his team must get better to achieve its goal of making a deep playoff run.
“We spent so much time last week on our running game that I thought our pass protection got sloppy,” Hare said. “Last week we spent a lot of time on the individual fundamentals of the run game. We didn’t work much on our passing game and it showed. So this week we’ve spent more time on that. It’s just a process on getting the kids where they’re supposed to be. It’s all the little things.”
Hare also said his team needs to show some improvement on special teams. The kicking game and return coverage have hurt the Cougars through the early going of the season so the special teams area has also been a big theme in practice.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on special teams,” Hare said. “That has to be a strength for us. Field position is a huge part of the game, especially as it turns colder.
“These kids are starting to understand. The light is turning on and they’re asking the right questions.”
- Sparks (0-3) at Truckee (2-0) -
•Sparks has seen its fair share of struggles through the first three weeks of the fall campaign and it’s not likely going to be easy for the Railroaders to get back on track. Sparks plays Northern 3A frontrunners Truckee, Elko and Lowry the next three weeks.
The SHS team could get better, but not have much to show for it.
“That’s possible,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “This stretch is very tough, but we’re anticipating giving everything we’ve got. We’ve got a very resilient bunch this year. They’ve really focused on getting better each week.”
The Sparks offense has had some untimely turnovers, but all in all, has performed pretty well. The Railroaders have scored 78 points in three games. It’s been the Sparks defense that has more often than not hurt the Sparks cause. However, Kittrell believes there is reason to be optimistic.
“Last week we saw, in the second half, what we expected out of our defense all year. Those guys kind of came out with mean attitude and played physical, played aggressive. They kept us in the game and gave us a shot toward the end.”
So how do SHS coaches get their defenders to replicate the improved effort?
“They got a taste of it,” Kittrell said. “Now they know what it is we’re looking for. We want that to carry over against a very good Truckee team. This will be good test for us all the way around. It’s a matter of putting it all together and what’s a better time to put it all together than against Truckee on Saturday?”
After the Railroaders opened 0-2, their coaching staff went back to the drawing board and came up with a more simplistic approach to teaching that Kittrell think is helping his players learn.
“This year we’re focusing just on getting better at what we do, playing faster,” the veteran coach said. “Having the extra day to practice this week is good. Last week on Labor Day, that Monday, we kind of went back to the simple basics and fundamentals on everything we do. We did a lot of stuff against air. We’ve tried to get quicker on it. I think that really helped us last week and we’ve continued it since.”
Sparks went into the season with one of the smallest rosters in the 3A ranks, suiting up just 25 players. That doesn’t make it easy to build depth or substitute or even keep guys from playing no both sides of the football. But despite its shortcomings in the numbers game, Kittrell said his squad has held up relatively well.
“I’ve been very happy and surprised with our conditioning,” Kittrell said. “We have not worn down at all. We are down three starters, but the kids who have come in, have filled in great. Now obviously we can’t afford to lose too many more players. we’re hanging by a thread, but our kids have really stepped up ... Again, we have an amazingly resilient group of kids. In the 14 years I’ve been a head coach, this is the most fun I’ve had being 0-3.”