Both Reed (11-1) and Carson (10-1) were set to host regional semifinal playoff affairs last Friday (Nov. 11), but the Caughlin Fire in southwest Reno forced Washoe County School District officials to open local schools to displaced families and emergency personnel. That meant Reed could not host Douglas, and in an effort to keep competitive balance, the NIAA, Nevada’s governing body for high school sports, would not allow the Carson-Manogue semifinal to be played on a different day than the Reed-Douglas matchup.
In the end, the two semifinal affairs went off without a hitch on Monday night and the host schools won, leaving Reed and Carson with a short turnaround, just five days, before today’s gridiron battle.
“We could not have played Monday and then Friday, that would have been two games within five days, it’s kind of like our pitching limit rules in baseball,” NIAA Assistant Director Donnie Nelson said. “But Monday and Saturday works.
“We understand that’s a short turnaround, but it was the best-case scenario. It was a tough decision to make but we had to think of those (displaced) families and combine the subfactors like availability of emergency personnel and other student activities ... We feel like, in the grand scheme of things, both teams are on an equal playing field.”
Veteran Reed football coach Ernie Howren admits the past week has been different but he stopped well short of saying a different routine will affect player performance in today’s big game.
“The changes have affected what we do, but when I say it’s affected us, it’s not like it’s a negative thing,” he said. “But it is definitely something we’ve had to adjust to. We played on Monday. And on Tuesday, the kids were pretty sore. It was a physical game and the kids played their butts off. The kids did not get a day off like they’d get after a Friday night game. So, our Tuesday practice was more like a walk-through and a conditioning day to get our legs back.”
Reed will need some fresh legs to track down Carson’s all-state running back Dylan Sawyers. The cat-quick tailback has led the senators in rushing each of the past three seasons and was the Northern 4A player of the year last fall. This fall he’s racked up 1,349 yards on 162 carries. He’s averaging nearly 170 yards a game on the ground.
“Sawyers is a game-changer,” Howren said. “If you’re going to put together a scouting report or gameplan to attack Carson, Dylan Sawyers’ name is at the top of the list of guys you have to account for. His footwork is as good as anybody’s in the league. With a guy like Dylan Sawyers, you can’t come out and arm tackle. A kid like that will run right through them.”
While Reed coaches are putting a gameplan together to slow Sawyers, you can bet Carson coaches are looking for ways to neutralize Reed’s potent spread offense, keyed by senior quarterback A.J. Silva.
“They have an outstanding offense,” Carson coach Blair Roman said of the Raiders. “They have had some good quarterbacks in recent years and Silva is the best. They do a good job of taking care of the ball. Defensively, we have to maintain ball control and keep their offense off the field. We have to do a good job of playing in space, tackling well in the open field.”
Today’s game will be just the second time this season Reed has played on a synthetic playing surface. The other occasion was at McQueen, where the Raiders drubbed the perennial North power Lancers 40-6. Carson has artificial turf on its CHS campus stadium field. While Reed is used to playing on grass, Howren downplayed any advantage the Senators may have.
“You don’t even think about it,” Howren said. “It’s such a nice surface and the fields have evolved so much over the past five or six years. What’s cool is the fields are so nice, it’s never an issue.”
Carson has beaten Reed the last two times the teams have taken the field against each other — a non-conference early-season meeting in 2009 and a regional semifinal contest last season. Reed was considered a favorite in both of those meetings. Raider coaches never talk about revenge but the fact they’ve been upset twice by the Senators in recent meetings cannot be lost on the ultra-competitive RHS staff.
“We are excited for every opportunity we get,” Howren said. “We are fortunate we’re able to talk about league and regional championships. This puts us in a situation to attain our third goal, so this is a big deal to us. It’s something we’re pretty excited about.
“You could play this game in the Reed parking lot and we’d be excited to play. It’s for a regional championship. It’s cool to be playing at Mackay Stadium, but when it comes down to it, the kids would play anywhere given the opportunity.”