All three Sparks programs will hit the road today for expected tough tests. Here’s a closer look at the trio of games pitting the local squads against their second opponents.
Sparks Railroaders (0-1) at Elko Indians (0-0), 7 p.m.
Heading into Week 2 of the prep football season, the Sparks High School gridders are looking to redeem themselves after a disappointing start to their year, a 58-21 defeat to Yerington. For the Railroaders, the hopeful turnaround will have to start by stopping opposing offenses from marching down the field.
In its opening contest, Sparks allowed the Lions to rack up 393 yards on the ground. Now, the Maroon and Gold will try to stop the rushing attack of the Elko Indians if they want to notch their first win of the young season. Like Yerington, the Indians’ offense will present a tough challenge for the Railroaders. Last season Elko handed the Railroaders a 54-27 defeat. In that game, the Indians ran the ball 45 times for 316 yards.
“Elko is a Wing-T so they want to run the ball,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “We have to be disciplined defensively in our assignments. The Wing-T’s a lot like the option as far as defending it goes. We have to tackle. We’ve gotten a little bit better tackling in practice this week. Everyone has a job to do and they have to be disciplined and not get their head caught in the backfield.”
While the defense will need to shore up its holes, Kittrell said he is looking for similar improvements on the offensive side of the ball. He’ll need to see both in order for the Railroaders to pull off the road ‘W.’
“Offensively we have to sustain and execute our drives and go from there,” Kittrell said. “We stress playing fast and we’re seeing them play a little bit past their level. There’s still a lot of fire and excitement, so that’s good. The big thing for us is we can’t get behind big early. It kills these kids’ confidence and it’s all about confidence for them.”
Spanish Springs Cougars (1-0) at Damonte Ranch Mustangs (1-0), 7:30 p.m.
The result of Spanish Springs’ first game was the same as the Railroaders with a final of 58-21, but unlike Sparks, the Cougars came out on top of their contest, drilling perennially tough Bishop Manogue. Now the Purple and Silver will look to keep its momentum rolling as it visits Damonte Ranch.
Last season the Mustangs edged Spanish Springs 49-42 after being down 28-14 at halftime. A large part of Damonte’s victory will be on the field again tonight for the Mustangs.
“They might have one of the best football players in the area in their running back, Drew Smith,” Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. “Drew really hurt us in our game last year so I think it’s one of those things where we need to know where Drew is on offense.
“We need to know where he is at all times. If he goes to the snack bar, we go to the snack bar. I think it really is about making Damonte use some other guys in various roles. Obviously they have some other guys and they have some pretty good athletes, but we need to know where Drew Smith is. I don’t think that’s any type of a slap in the face to us. I just think it’s one of those things if another team wants to utilize a guy then you better know where he’s lined up. We just need to be aware of what they’re doing with him and what our roles and responsibilities are around him.”
In the Mustangs’ first game against North Valleys, Smith totaled 339 yards rushing for four touchdowns, along with a kickoff returne a score. While eyes will be on Smith for the Cougs’ defense, Damonte will have its own worries, dealing with quarterback Hunter Fralick and the Spanish Springs offense.
“We had a 7-on-7 earlier in the summer against them and they throw the ball around pretty good,” Damonte coach Shawn Dupris said. “We know that they’re going to out come throwing. We have to do a good job defensively stopping them and control the ball offensively to keep them off the field. We have to keep them from having big plays.”
While Hare said a key for the Cougars to be successful will be picking up the Mustangs’ aggressive blitz packages, he also emphasized the importance of special teams in order for Spanish Springs to gain another victory.
“Once again, we have to be solid in the kicking game. I was really pleased with that last week. We didn’t make one field goal all of last year and so far we’re 1-for-1 this year and 7-for-8 on PATs. Right there, that’s 10 points,” Hare said. “Those are the big things that people don’t really think about. Kicking is huge. The offense and defense get a lot of credit as they should, but our special teams played incredibly well against Manogue. For us to beat Damonte, I think that’s going to have to continue.”
Reed Raiders (0-1) at Foothill Cougars (0-0), 7 p.m.
When the Reed Raiders travel to Palo Cedro, Calif., to face off against the Foothill Cougars tonight, they may think they are looking in a mirror.
Much like the Blue and Gold, Foothill has been a perennial power in its respective Eastern Athletic League, reaching the Northern Section Division-I championship game the past two seasons. But like the Raiders, the Cougars have also fallen short of winning that ultimate championship. Now both squads will look to finally achieve that goal while first testing each other.
“The thing that we know about them is just the pride that have in their program and what they do,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “We’ve seen them at the UNR camp and their coaches do a great job of coaching up the kids. You can just see the energy in the team.”
Foothill coach Bryon Hamilton had similar sentiments about the Raiders’ program.
“We have been to the UNR camp before so we know that they’re a very good program,” Hamilton said. “We know that they had a tremendous season last year and that they have great athletes and excellent coaches, so they’re the type of team we like to match up against. It’s a good test for us to see where we’re at early in the season. We try to find good, quality teams that can make us a better team. We like to get out there and play some quality opponents. Facing a team like Reed, it’s better for our kids, better for our program and more exciting for our fans.”
As both teams look to prepare for their upcoming conference seasons, the non-league game will serve as a good marker for how they each stack up against top competition. With a highly touted pair of wide receivers, including 6-foot-4 wideout Cooper Janusevskis, who has totaled 1,160 receiving yards in two varsity seasons and who Hamilton said is one of the best in school history, the Cougars look to pose a threat to the Raiders’ secondary. It is something Howren said he is not worried about.
“Our secondary sees the best receiver in the state day in and day out with Devin Gray, so I have a good feeling that they’ve seen a pretty good stud before,” Howren said. “They’ve been there, done that. Right now what I’m worried about is we have to fix the mistakes we made last game. Win, lose, whatever, it doesn’t matter to me right now because the biggest thing is we have to fix our mistakes. Defensively, that means tackling and sitting in the right gaps and then offensively, blocking up front. We have to be able to push the front and run the ball. It’s something we’ve got to start doing.
“No. 1, I want to see improvement. We have to keep getting better every week. We have to start getting up to game speed. That’s the thing we’ve been preaching to the kids. We’re not playing fast enough. In the Logan game, we just were not flying around with our hair on fire and that’s the biggest concern for us right now.”