When the Vaqueros finally touched the ball on offense, they took two plays to score an offensive touchdown and two more plays to score a second. After four snaps of the ball, Fernley was up 28-0 and the outcome of the Northern 1-A league game was never in doubt as the visitors cruised to a 54-7 victory at Sparks High.
“When I was at Winnemucca, Rob (Kittrell) put some points on me in the first half,” Fernley coach Chris Ward said with a laugh. “It wasn’t about that though. We just jumped on them and never gave them a chance to breathe. When you get in a hole, it’s hard to dig yourself out of them. Those (turnovers) are huge momentum changers. We got momentum and it kind of just rolled and rolled and rolled.”
Fernley took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. On Sparks’ first possession, quarterback Geo Vasquez was picked off and that was returned for a touchdown, giving the Vaqueros a 14-0 with 10:58 on the first-quarter clock.
The Railroaders were able to move the ball better than they had in their previous two shutout losses, but once Sparks broke into Fernley territory, disaster would strike for the home team.
After Fernley took a 14-0 lead, Sparks took the ball and drove to the Vaqueros’ 45. However, four straight plays for no gain gave the ball right back to Fernley.
On the first offensive play for Fernley, senior running back Paul Bustamante exploded for a 52-yard gain down to the Sparks 3. He then finished off the scoring drive with a 3-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 lead less than halfway through the first quarter.
Fernley forced Sparks to punt on the next possession, taking over at its own 35. Bustamante ran for five yards on the first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Skylar Williams followed that with a 60-yard run around the left side of the line for a touchdown. The extra point made it a 28-0 game with 2:00 remaining in the first quarter.
Sparks proceeded to drive down to the Fernley 22 before an interception on first down left Maroon and Gold fans shaking their heads.
It got worse for the home team. The Vaqueros went 58 yards on the ensuing scoring drive, which made it 35-0.
But then Sparks fumbled inside its 10 and Fernley recovered at the 5. The next play saw the Lyon County school dive into the end zone. The PAT was missed, but the Vaqueros still led 41-0 with 6:44 to go before the break.
As if the turnover near the Fernley red zone wasn’t disheartening enough, Sparks put together a 70-yard drive that spanned nearly six minutes and brought the Railroaders down to the Fernley 10 before they fumbled the ball away with 40 seconds on the clock.
“We executed pretty well tonight until that play number 10 (of a drive),” Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell said. “Then we seemed to shoot ourselves in the foot. That’s a real good defense. They shut out Elko.”
The Sparks offense didn’t come out of halftime with the same success.
On the verge of suffering its second straight three-and-out, the Railroaders were set up to punt from their own 10. In a chaotic turn of events, the snap flew way over punter Moises Collazo’s head. He tracked down the ball in the end zone but had nowhere to run. He jumped and juked around several near-tacklers to avoid a safety and finally frantically shoveled the ball sideways to Cedric Sanchez in the middle of the end zone And in the most remarkable play of the season, Sanchez took the ball to the left and booked it all the way down to the Fernley 27.
While a turnover on downs was the eventual fate of the drive, for a moment, Sparks fans had a chance to show their excitement and Kittrell had to smile.
“It was a great effort play by those guys,” Kittrell said. “That’s the type of hard work we’ve been looking for. If we can channel that up for a whole game, we will be better off.”
That excitement was short-lived as the Vaqueros trekked 76 yards for a touchdown that started the mercy-rule running clock. Fernley had its own fortuitous play on the drive. From the Fernley 29, Bustamante broke through the middle for a big gain. He was tackled from behind near the Sparks 15 and fumbled the ball forward. Somehow, he popped back up and was able to grab the bouncing ball, taking in the rest of the way. However, a block in the back penalty negated the TD.
Bustamante took the next carry down to the 5 for a 21-yard gain before backup quarterback Kevin Montgomery increased the lead to 48-0 with a keeper.
Still, after watching the previous 11 quarters end with a goose egg on the board, Sparks made sure it would not be shut out for the third straight game. On a third-and-20 play, Vasquez connected with Sanchez for a 35-yard touchdown pass over the middle. Arturo Herrera’s extra point was good, cutting the deficit to 48-7 with 8:10 to go in the game. Sparks’ first touchdown since the fourth quarter of its season opener took the mercy rule running clock off the table.
“It was huge. We hadn’t scored in 11 quarters,” Kittrell said. “We hadn’t even crossed the 50 in eight quarters. That was a major feat that second drive. That was good to see, to see Geo bounce back.”
Any SHS scoring momentum also was short-lived as Fernley went back to business.
Williams capped a scoring drive with a 19-yard keeper for the last touchdown of the game.
Sparks (0-4) is about to face its toughest test of the season as it heads to Truckee Sept. 22 for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.