It’s been a long road for some teams that are jockeying for playoff position, and an even longer road for another, which is still trying to earn its first victory.
Here is a preview of this week’s games, which will be held tonight due to Nevada Day.
Reed Raiders (6-3) at Spanish Springs (7-2), tonight at 7 p.m.
At 4-0 in league play, Reed is trying to go undefeated in league for the second straight season and earn the top seed for the playoffs. A loss would create a three-way tie at the top of the High Desert League standings between Reed, Reno and Spanish Springs.
While there is a slim chance Reed would lose the No. 1 seed if it dropped tonight’s contest, the Raiders want to win the league title outright.
“I don’t think either program is caring that this is a rivalry. There are more important things out there and that’s a league championship,” Reed football coach Ernie Howren said. “I think that’s probably the key.”
Spanish Springs is resigned to the fact that it is the No. 3 seed for the playoffs. SSHS football coach Scott Hare said his team would need to beat Reed by 13 points and hold them to under three, which is just not going to happen because the Raiders will put up their points. Still, the Cougars aren’t just going to let Reed win the rivalry matchup, especially since this is setting up to be the most competitive contest between the two schools since the 2009 season when the Raiders won the season finale 19-6.
“I hope this is one of the closer matchups. Just looking at our records, it should be,“ Hare said. “Usually when we’re facing Reed at the end of the season, they’re 9-0 or 8-1 and we’re trying to finish 5-5. We’re usually trying to get that sixth seed and they’re going for that No. 1 seed.”
In the 2009 season, Spanish Springs had arguably the best defense in the North, and held the high-scoring Reed offense without a touchdown in the game. The make-up of this year’s Cougars squad is much different.
It’s all about the uptempo offense for Spanish Springs, but Hare said his players also have to execute.
“We can’t have those mistakes where we gain five yards, but we lined up incorrectly, because that’s a 10-yard swing right there.” Hare said. “You can’t do that and be successful against good teams, and Reed is a good team.”
Execution is something Howren has been preaching all year and he feels like his team finally put it all together against Reno in a 44-2 win last Friday.
“We talked to the kids about it. We’re just so proud of them. They finally put a complete game together,“ Howren said. “We’ve had some good games this year, but we’ve never had one where they didn’t let anything bother them. We had four drives (against Reno) that could have easily been stopped by big penalties or a couple negative run plays. The kids found a way to keep their focus and never gave up.”
Both teams have comparable skill players on offense. Spanish Springs is led by its three-headed monster of quarterback Hunter Fralick, running back Jeff Jurgensmeier and wide receiver Vance Lively.
Fralick has completed 136 of 216 passes for 17 touchdowns and one interception. He’s averaging 255 yards per game.
Jurgensmeier has rushed for 591 yards on 83 carries, finding the end zone nine times. Lively has 51 catches for 927 yards and nine touchdowns.
On Reed’s side of the ball, the Cougars will need to slow down quarterback Mark Nowaczewski, running back Ty Shepard and receiver Devin Gray.
Nowaczewski is a threat on the ground and through the air, racking up 2,666 combined yards. He is 175-of-277 passing with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while adding nine rushing scores.
Shepard is leading the team in rushing with 1,057 yards on 134 carries, scoring 11 times. Gray has nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with 975 yards receiving. He has caught 72 passes — 11 going for touchdowns.
What tonight’s game will come down to is which defense will step up.
“The challenge is finding a way to minimize the damage. They do such a great job spreading the ball around,” Howren said of the Spanish Springs offense. “Obviously Fralick is leading that group with such a great arm. Then having receivers, he can throw to any one of them. You have to do a good job putting pressure on the quarterback and taking away those passing lanes.”
Sparks (0-9) at Wooster (1-8), tonight at 7 p.m.
The Railroaders have struggled through nine weeks of football. The final two games of the season looked like the best opportunities for the local squad to earn its first win of the season.
But after matching its worse loss of the season last week at Dayton, 68-6, Sparks has to turn its attention to the one team that hasn’t won a Division I-A contest this year either.
Wooster has lost eight straight games after opening the season with a 48-23 win over R.O.P.
The Railroaders’ perceived ability to compete with the struggling Colts, let alone beat them, took a big hit last Friday. Sparks allowed the most points it has all season to the Dust Devils, a team that only beat Wooster 20-14 three weeks ago.
The Colts have six lopsided losses on their record compared to nine for the Railroaders. Wooster also has been more effective on offense and defense than its SHS counterparts.
Northern Division I-A opponents are outscoring Wooster by an average margin of 42-12 in league play. That looks bad, but the margin for Sparks is 56-6.
So what will it take for Sparks to match its one win from a year ago and avoid a winless campaign? It’s going to be tough.
“They like to throw the ball. They have a pretty athletic quarterback, who can get out and run,” Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell said. “They have a couple good receivers. We’ve seen one good receiver on teams this year. It’s going to be pretty tough to defend a couple good guys on different sides. It’s definitely going to be a challenge defensively.”
There’s no doubt that Sparks wants to go out on a winning note and not be saddled with a winless season.
“It’s always nice to go out winning your last game. It helps set the tone for the offseason. Everybody has that good feeling and the seniors have it the rest of their lives,” Kittrell said. “Kids coming back next year have that feeling that the last game they played was a victory. The small contingent of seniors want to go out with a win.”