Sparks is looking for a win just to break its two-year losing skid. Spanish Springs needs a win to stay in playoff contention and Reed needs to keep its record unblemished as it remains the frontrunner to capture a High Desert League crown."
Here's a closer look at the games involving Sparks-area schools:
Dayton at Sparks, Thursday 7 p.m.
•Sparks (0-7, 0-7 DI-A North) was forced to call off practice Monday after the school was used to house Sparks Middle School students following the SMS shooting Monday morning. That's probably not optimal for a winless team that needs all the practice time it can get to try and improve. Additionally, preparations are already cut short this week with games across northern Nevada being played on Thursday due to Friday's Nevada Day holiday.
Still, veteran Sparks High coach Rob Kittrell knows it was probably for the best.
"It's concerning, but we're not adding anything new," Kittrell said. "Maybe a day off will keep our kids a little more fresh for Thursday night. Some of them, mentally, needed a day off after Monday's events. The important thing now is getting back to normalcy.
"Nevada Day week games are always good. It's something you know is out there at the end of the year. Both teams are on the same amount of practice. We're just trying to get better at what we need to shore up. We just have a lot more to get better at than other teams."
Kittrell said Dayton's offense doesn't have much secrecy to it, stressing the Dust Devils (3-5, 3-4) want to get the pigskin into the hands of running back Austin Fletcher as much as possible.
"He's a big, quick running back and he runs hard," Kittrell said. "We had a film of Dayton-Spring Creek earlier in the year and I was really impressed with him. He's a heck of a back if not the best in the league. They have a counter to their other back and they run some play-action. They're pretty solid all the way around."
Dayton's downfall has been its lack of depth. The Dust Devils will only suit up about 25 players. Kittrell said teams have beaten the DHS gridders either by just outscoring them or wearing them out.
"Our best game plan is to keep the ball out of his (Fletcher) hands by keeping our offense on the field scoring touchdowns," Kittrell said. "But it's scary with the success he's had because we haven't shown a lot of scoring ability."
Sparks has not scored more than 14 points in a game and its been limited to six touchdowns all season. Kittrell said his team could stand a chance if it can limit its penalties, which seem to come at the most inopportune time.
"We have eliminated a lot of our negative plays, but penalties have really killed us," he said. "They put us in second-and-long and third-and-long situations and that's not the kind of offense we've got. We have to get small chunks down the field and keep a consistent tempo."
North Valleys at Spanish Springs, Thursday 7 p.m.
•There will be some odd circumstances floating around the football environment when these two teams meet at SSHS. Teams play to win, but they don't often play to win by double digits. And yet, due to NIAA tiebreakers, that's exactly the situation Spanish Springs finds itself in.
If Spanish Springs (3-4, 1-2 HDL) loses it will be out of the playoff race with a week still left in the regular season. And even a win might not prove enough to extend the local school's fall campaign into the postseason.
"We have to win by more than 12 or it may not make a difference. We could still lose all the tiebreakers," Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. "So this is a playoff game for us. It's awkward. I've never coached in a game like this. If you're up seven with three minutes to go, you don't coach the same way. You're not trying just to win but you're trying to win by a certain number and that's not usually how you coach a game."
The Nevada Day Weekend contest has huge significance and the Cougars will get one less day to prepare for the pass-happy Panthers (1-6, 1-2). Still, even though Spanish Springs has one less day to prepare for the Panthers, who like to run as many plays as possible in a 48-minute game, Hare said he doesn't think that will affect the outcome.
"Not this late in the year," he said. "You could pretty much play most games on Thursdays and you'd be OK at this point. You are who you are. Your routine is pretty well set. I feel fine about playing on Thursday. Our Monday workout is kind of light. We'll combine it with other stuff through the rest of the week."
The Cougars can help their cause by being more efficient in the red zone. The last two weeks Spanish Springs has left points on the field by not converting close to the end zone and it's cost the local club a victory or two. Also, Spanish Springs must find a way to slow down the Panthers' offense, which ran up 500-plus yards and hung 40 points on a well-respected Reed defense last week.
"We'll have a couple things prepared for them and we have had some success defending what they've done," Hare said. "But I will say this, (NVHS coach) Ty (Gregg) has always got some wrinkle or two that he does a really good job of exploiting the defense. We're not going to be able to play North Valleys exactly the same way on every down. They'd figure that out. We'll have a couple different things that their quarterback will have to take a look at and see if he can diagnose quickly enough."
Reno at Reed, Thursday 7 p.m.
•After starting the season by splitting its first six games, it night have been tough to gauge how good the Reno football team was. But after watching Reno handle Spanish Springs and Hug the past two weeks, the Huskies look to be playing their best football of the season. They'll need to against perennial North power and undefeated Reed (7-0, 3-0).
While Reno (5-3, 2-2) has been up and down at times this fall, veteran Reed coach Ernie Howren said his team doesn't concern itself with that.
"We don't focus on what teams do badly. We just look at the things they do really well," Howren said. "Reno runs so many fronts. They do that as well as anyone. That's something they do so well. We have to be focused on seeing a lot of adjustments from Reno."
However, while the Huskies may utilize a bevy of formations, they don't have a huge playbook.
"We know that offensively, they run a lot of formations but the same base plays out of each formation. They try to get you to think something different is coming, but in reality, its' the same plays they run really well. Defensively too, you'll see every front you can possibly run. Their goal is to try to do everything they can to confuse your blocking schemes up front with a lot of different fronts and blitzes."
The Reed defense had been seemingly getting better each week, but it took a step backward last weekend, giving up a season-high 40 points. The Raiders took bad angles in pursuit time and again and missed way too many tackles for a top-ranked team.
"Defense is huge," Howren said. "It's the No. 1 thing we've talked about in the gameplan. We must challenge ourselves and get back to playing the sound defense we played in the weeks prior. There were things North Valleys took advantage of and then other times we gave up, whether it was an effort play or they flat beat us."
Fortunately for Reed, it has an offense that can overcome a 40-point debacle by its defense. The Raiders scored on their first eight possessions last weekend en route to putting 59 points on the host Panthers. Reno will need to slow down the Raiders' dual-threat attack to have any chance of hanging around Thursday night.
"To come out and score on your first eight drives, you have to say you're doing good things offensively, but you go back and watch film and still say there are things you could've done better. There is always room for improvement. As each week goes along and we keep getting closer to talking about a league championship, things must get cleaner and tighter."