"I said it the other night; we have so much respect for McQueen, so to get a win on their field is just huge," Reed coach Ernie Howren said. "McQueen is so well coached. Their kids play so hard. To go up to there and get our first league victory is a huge deal for us."
Reed improved to 3-3 overall and the Raiders continue to show resiliency. The Raiders have probably played the toughest schedule of any northern Nevada team. After opening the season with two road losses against traditionally tough California schools, Reed rebounded with back-to-back wins. Next, the Raiders were saddled with an emotional 32-30 loss at Carson on which the Senators were granted a controversial touchdown catch on the final play of the game. Still, Reed was unfazed as it bounced back to win at McQueen.
"The one thing we can definitely hang our hat on is that our kids are willing to fight, play tough on the road and play with emotion in close games," Howren said. "We just had a game come down to a last-second play that could've gone either way. We had kids get a stop on defense and then we've driven the length of the field to win a game. Our mental toughness is something I'm very proud of."
While Howren is proud of his team's ability to fight through adversity, he is quick to admit his team needs more mental focus, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The Raiders inconsistent execution and untimely penalties continue to illustrate the Raiders have a lot of room for growth.
"It comes down to an understanding of the scheme," Howren said. "We feel there are little things where we keep making mistakes and at this point in the season, we feel we shouldn't be making those. It's a little disappointing to be sitting in Week 6 and still making those. That's what leads to inconsistent play on offense. We can drive 90 yards and then when we need a play on second-and-3, we can't convert. It's something we must get past."
The lack of execution was evident against McQueen. While the Raiders made some big plays for touchdowns, it could not sustain a drive for a score until the final minutes. Reed quarterback Mark Nowaczewski and his receivers failed to make big plays when the opportunities presented themselves on multiple occasions. Early in the second quarter, Reed had already committed four false start penalties.
"It just goes back to inconsistencies and simple execution errors we're making," Howren said. "Every game is won and lost in the trenches. We know that. It's no secret. That's a reality for us. Our play has got to continue to improve up front. And in no way do I put it all on our offensive line. It's a collective effort that we continue to make little mistakes that hurt us. Those mistakes keep ending drives ... Our execution offensively has got to get better if we expect to make any type of run."
•At Spanish Springs, the Cougars are coming off a 55-14 win at Hug in their High Desert League opener. That lopsided score leads one to think the SSHS gridders posted an impressive victory over the winless Hug, but there were some growing pains.
Spanish Springs held just a slim one-score edge at the intermission, 14-7. Costly penalties and sluggish play were killers for the Cougars in the first two quarters.
"I thought we came out pretty mentally sluggish," Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. "We made a lot of mistakes from not paying attention to our calls on defense. And on offense, we had some penalties that were just characteristic of a lack of focus.
"But I don't think it's a trend. These are still 16-17-year-old kids and we're trying to sell the fact that just because a team has lost 15 straight, doesn't mean they can't win a football game. You'd like all your teams to play hard all the time and never lose mental focus, but it's hard. These are kids. I'm happy with the way we came back in the second half."
Hare liked the way his team took responsibility and how players held themselves accountable for the poor first-half performance. The seventh-year Cougars coach said his all-league quarterback, Hunter Fralick asked to speak to the team at halftime before the coaches. Hare and his staff waited outside the locker room while Fralick and other team leaders spoke up. The move seemed to pay dividends.
"I was pretty upset at halftime. I didn't want to say anything I'd regret or make an overblown comment," Hare said. "Looking back, I was more upset about five or six plays, which meant we had 25 or so pretty good ones. And then Hug did a good job in the first half of getting some first downs and milking the clock. They did a good job of holding on to the football and it didn't give us an opportunity to get into an early rhythm."
Spanish Springs sits 5-1 on the fall campaign with its lone loss coming at the hands of an Inderkum, Calif. team that is 4-1 and ranked among the best in the Sacramento area. The SSHS stats stack up against anyone in the northern Nevada large-school ranks.
So are the Cougars among the region's elite?
"No, not even close," Hare said. "You have to win a few games to scare anybody and you have to win for years before you can intimidate people. We still have teams in front of us that we haven't beat consistently. We've probably split with Reno. We've only beaten McQueen once (2009) and we've only beaten Reed twice (but not since 2004). Those teams are not intimidated by us. They fully expect to beat us and history suggests we shouldn't expect to beat them. Until we do, I won't care about our record.
"We have never won a playoff game at Spanish Springs. We have to win a playoff game before we can even start talking about Spanish Springs having a decent year."
•At Sparks, the Railroaders are staring at an 0-6 record following Friday's 48-20 road loss in Fallon. But all is not lost. Long-time Sparks coach Rob Kittrell saw some positives in defeat.
"It was by far the best game we've played all year," he said. "We were able to run it a little bit. Geo threw well. I believe we ran 67 offensive plays to their 38. We don't keep track of time of possession, but I felt like we had the ball the majority of the game."
Kittrell was quick to admit those stats don't mean much when you lose, but he also knows those stats often lead to wins. In the big picture, he likes that his team is making strides against some of the top teams in Division I-A North.
"We don't have the breakaway speed threat for the big play," Kittrell said. "Still, we only punted once. I was very pleased with the offensive execution. And with the way we've been playing on the defensive side of the ball, it's important to keep opposing offenses off the field. We do need to finish more of these drives. If we do that, then we'll keep the pressure on another team's offense. That's when you start to see other teams make mistakes and momentum wise that helps your defense feel like its in the game."
Sparks coaches would still like to see bigger improvement from their defensive unit. The 48 points accrued by the Greenwave last weekend was the lowest point total for a Railroaders opponent in six games.
"Our defense still has to get more consistent," Kittrell said. "We'll have the guys in the right spot and slow the ball down but then once guy gets out of alignment and it's off to the races."
When you're the coach of a struggling team, it's important to stay positive and find ways to build confidence. Kittrell think his staff is finding ways do just that and with four games left in the regular season, his team still has goals its can achieve.
"Our goal down the stretch is to try to get a couple wins," Kittrell said. " The thing I'm most excited about, and the thing as coaches that makes us feel like we're still reaching the kids, is that through these first five weeks the kids haven't quit. They are still believing, still showing up to practice and getting better. It would be real easy to shut it down.
"If we can get them to be better football players and increase their football IQ, we'll be better down the stretch. We are getting there."