Sparks and Spanish Springs both watched second-half leads disappear a week ago while Reed dominated an opponent for the fourth-straight week. All three Sparks-area schools face key league tests tonight. Here’s a closer look at those matchups.
- North Valleys (1-4) at Reed (3-1), 7:30 p.m. -
•The Reed Raiders are definitely in midseason form. The local club appears to be hitting on all cylinders as it has outscored opponents 105-6 the last two weeks.
RHS coach Ernie Howren always plays his comments pretty close to the vest but he did admit he and his club are having fun while they work hard to achieve long-term success.
“People always gauge fun by success,” he said. “So to a point, we’re having fun because of our success. Being around this group of kids and coaches is fun. They have mixed well and really understand each other … We are where we want to be at this point, but there’s still a lot of work ahead of us. But those are all good, positive things we can work toward because the kids have put themselves in this position.”
That position is three straight wins, including a 2-0 start to Northern 4A league play. The latest of those wins was a 40-6 victory over perennial power McQueen last weekend on the Lancers’ home field.
A week after getting up for one of the biggest games on its schedule, Reed faces a struggling North Valleys squad that has dropped four straight and been outscored 188-44 in the process. So, is this a trap game for the Raiders? Howren says ‘no way.’
“That’s just a darn excuse when people say that,” Howren said. “If we come out and don’t perform, that’s on us. That’s a lack of focus and a credit to the other team. That won’t happen to us. Our guys are too mature to let that happen.”
Raiders coaches have watched plenty of film on the Panthers and can see the North Reno school’s quickness across the board. Howren pointed out his club must be sound defensively and stay disciplined, making sure to be in the right spots.
“North Valleys is a team that won its first game and has struggled a bit since. But you can go back to that first game of the year and see they have great team speed,” Howren said. “They have the team speed to get their offense rolling.
“We’ve just got to make sure we match up their team speed with intensity and focus. We’ve got to get in the right position defensively.”
That likely won’t be much of an issue. The Raiders’ defense seems to be getting better each week. After shutting out Hug two weeks ago, Reed held a usually potent McQueen offense to just six points.
But the Reed defense isn’t the only thing clicking for the east Sparks school. Its up-tempo, no-huddle offense isn’t too shabby either and the Raiders’ special teams hurt McQueen too.
“Last week was a classic game, just a great team game,” Howren said. “We had tremendous defense, excellent special teams, and after the offense struggled a bit in the first half, it came out and set the tone for the rest of the game by scoring on our first two drives in the second half. I thought the kids did an outstanding job in all three facets.”
- Sparks (0-5) at Lowry (5-0), 7 p.m. -
•The Railroaders are desperate for some relief after a winless start, but there is none in sight. Sparks wraps up what is expected to be its toughest three-game stretch of the season tonight with its road trip to face unbeaten Lowry of Winnemucca. The SHS gridders have been beaten up by Truckee and Fallon the past two weeks.
“We knew this three-week stretch would be tough,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “It was tough last year and it’s tough this year. We have to keep fighting through and not battle ourselves. We must get better at what we do and try to make a run this last half of the season to see what happens.”
Sparks played maybe its best half of football last week as it grabbed a 14-12 edge at the break against Fallon. Unfortunately for Sparks, it turned the ball over on its first offensive possession of the second half, fell behind and collapsed en route to a 52-21 defeat.
Kittrell stressed his team must learn to handle adversity better. He stressed that one mistake, like an inopportune turnover, should not ruin the Railroaders’ fortunes.
“A big part of that comes from getting frustrated by turnovers,” he said. “We make a mistake and fall behind and then try to do too much. The kids need to keep it simple. When you lose momentum, you can’t try to get it all back in one play.
“We just have to believe. We can’t let the negative stuff affect us. The next play is the most important one. That’s why we’ve really struggled, fighting ourselves.”
The Railroaders will have plenty to fight in their opponent without fighting their own mistakes. Lowry brings Northern 3A MVP candidate Jace Billingsley into the game. Kittrell did not know an exact mark but he believes the cat-quick Buckaroos running back is approaching the 1,500-yard rushing mark in just five games.
“Lowry probably has the best player in the league in Billingsley. So with our run defense, that’s scary,” Kittrell said, alluding to his team’s struggles stopping opposing rushing attacks. “He’s got a good supporting cast too. You can’t just key on him. He’s quick. He reminds me of (former McQueen High standout and current NFL star) Chris Carr with his hesitation move and quick acceleration.”
Sparks coaches know their players have had a rough go of it through five games. The Railroaders coaches are doing their best to give Sparks players a fresh outlook that can lead to some success.
“Our approach this week is we’re not worried about the scoreboard,” Kittrell said. “We’re worried about possessions. We want to bring the focus down to offensive and defensive possessions. We can’t worry about the score. We just need to worry about beating them one possession at a time.”
- Reno (3-1) at Sp. Springs (3-2), 7:30 p.m. -
•A win tonight could be big for both schools in terms of playoff positioning down the road and they could not be coming off more different results last week. Reno surprised traditionally tough Manogue, 23-14. Conversely, Spanish Springs blew a two-touchdown halftime lead and dropped a heart-breaking 49-42 affair at Damonte Ranch after giving up a kickoff return for the winning score in the final minute of play.
The loss snapped a modest three-game winning streak for Spanish Springs and stopped a 14-game losing skid by Damonte. Still, Cougars coach Scott Hare would not go as far as to call it a setback.
“I don’t think it’s a setback in terms of our future and what we need to do to be successful,” Hare said. “Hopefully, it’s a wake-up call that this league is tough top to bottom. Our goals are intact but they did expose a few things.”
One was physical and one was mental.
“The film showed we were not out of position, but we were not as physical and we didn’t want to win as badly as Damonte did,” Hare said. “When their guys ran by us, we didn’t turn and chase them. The film showed our assignment football is good, but Damonte had an attitude that we didn’t have.”
That will need to change if Spanish Springs is to bounce back and regain the momentum it had before last week. The Cougars’ final five games on the schedule are against five of the top six seeds from last year’s playoff bracket. The SSHS team went 1-5 against those opponents last year and all are expecting big things again this fall.
“I hope our kids understand that every team we play the rest of the way will expect to beat us,” Hare said. “This is a tough league and every week matters. Nobody is scared of us. We’ll be the underdogs the next five weeks.”
While last week’s loss was far from fun for Spanish Springs, there were positives, like the 570-plus yards of total offense and 300-plus yards of rushing by senior tailback Conrad Tanyi. Hare said Tanyi and the Cougars’ offensive line are really starting to gel. He hopes that continues but he also knows tougher defenses loom.
“Can that continue? I hope so, but we’ll be playing defenses that get upset when they give 21-28 points,” Hare said. “Our line is starting to get it. They are communicating and understanding what we ask. It’s fun to see the linemen understand the scheme. I’m starting to understand how little they knew before; because now that they do, I can’t get them to shut up.”
Spanish Springs prevailed 24-14 at Reno a year ago. Hare is expecting another close contest tonight and he hopes his team will offer a much more physical presence than it did a week ago.
“If it’s not a physical game Friday, at least from our side, I’ll be disappointed in who I think these kids are,” Hare said. “I expect the kind of game where we should be laying on the locker room floor when the game’s over because we’re so exhausted. I think our kids understand what they need to do. But will they go out and do it, that’s the million dollar question.”