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Sparks schools set for tough Week 2 tests
by Dan Eckles
Sep 02, 2009 | 935 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Reed High football coach Ernie Howren talks to players at a recent Raiders practice.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Reed High football coach Ernie Howren talks to players at a recent Raiders practice.
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There seems to be a common theme among the Rail City schools’ prep football schedules — tough opponents in the preseason. There is little doubt the trio of Sparks schools will be tested this weekend.

Reed will host a five-time defending San Diego section champion in Oceanside, Calif. For the second straight week, 3A Sparks gets set to face a 4A foe, Fallon, and Spanish Springs makes a tough road trip to battle a perennial power from Central California in Palma.

Here’s a brief look at those three matchups.

Oceanside (0-0) vs. Reed (1-0), Friday 7 p.m.

In its season-opening 26-10 win over Manogue last weekend, Reed looked impressive at times, but far from perfect. The Raiders will likely need to be closer to that in Week 2.

“Oceanside is a great team,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “They have everything: great size, athleticism. They’ll be one of the fastest teams we’ve ever seen. I’ve seen four films on them. They really rely on great team speed and playing very physical football.”

Reed has one advantage going into the clash of traditionally tough opponents. The Raiders have played a game while Oceanside will be making its season debut after an 11-hour bus ride Thursday from Southern California. It’s an edge Howren hopes will pay dividends, but he’s been more impressed over the past month with the way his team is approaching the season in general.

“Obviously, we have a win under our belt and that’s huge to start off the season with that,” Reed’s ninth-year coach said. “I’m just really pleased with our kids’ attitude. They have responded to everything we’ve asked. In talking and working with the kids, the chemistry has been great. They have bought in to what we’re doing.”

Oceanside will have to deal with Reed’s quick-strike spread offense. While Raiders quarterback Tyler Pine connected on touchdown passes of 59, 40 and 60 yards, the RHS ground game showed there is plenty of room for improvement. Howren believes that is coming.

“Everybody hears spread and thinks your offense has to be about the pass, but you have to take what the defense gives you.” Howren said. “At times, we felt the passing game was what we needed to do to take advantage last week and it did work for us. But I did see times in the game that our running game could have been better. I believe over this week and in upcoming weeks you’ll see us establish the running game and become more balanced.”

Reed and Oceanside agreed to pick up this non-league affair when both teams were left with corresponding bye weeks. Reed coaches had trouble filling their bye over the past year, and Oceanside was left with a bye when financial backers of a showcase featuring Utah and SoCal teams backed out earlier this summer. When Howren learned of Oceanside’s open date, he quickly went to work to play the game. He knows his team is in for a stiff challenge but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’ve talked about it as a program and we consider this a great challenge,” Howren said. “The biggest thing is, we’re not backing down from anybody. You just don’t do it. That’s the approach we’re taking. This is a great opportunity for us to prove who we are, too.”

Sparks (1-0) at Fallon (0-1), Friday, 7:30 p.m.

The Sparks squad is in an eerily similar situation to last year as it gears up for a Week 2 meeting in Churchill County. The 3A Railroaders, who are coming off a 27-13 season-opening win over 4A Wooster, knocked off 4A South Tahoe in their debut a year ago. And just like last year, Sparks is set to play Fallon in its second game of the young season.

That didn’t go well for Sparks last year as the Greenwave cruised to a 38-7 romp at SHS. Sparks coach Rob Kittrell remembers the game vividly and he wants no part of a Week 2 letdown this season.

“They whipped us last year,” he said. “We had a win and then came into the first week of school. For whatever reason, we didn’t respond that first week back at school. Our whole thing is try not to let that affect us this week. Our practices have been good. We’ve really focused on not having a second week letdown.”

The long-time Railroaders coach said he learned something very positive about his team after watching it overcome a halftime deficit to capture a win over the Colts last weekend.

“I learned they respond well to adversity,” Kittrell said. “We didn’t play as clean a first half as we needed, but we responded well in the second half. … It’s a great thing. Last year we struggled when things were not going well for us. We never answered the bell when something bad happened or when we were down. This group showed that they could do that.”

Sparks coaches have liked what they’ve seen from their offensive line through preseason camp and the opening game. The Railroaders staff implemented a new zone blocking scheme and the linemen are progressing nicely in their grasp of the schemes. That showed against Wooster as Sparks senior Angel Guillen racked up 196 rushing yards thanks to some help from his offensive line.

“The offensive line is gelling well,” Kittrell said. “I was talking with our offensive line coach about how good a group of kids this is. They really trust one another and do their jobs. It’s a fun group to coach, just to see them with the new zone blocking scheme. I’m really proud of them.”

Sparks will travel to compete against a Fallon team that suffered a 22-13 loss at home to North Valleys in its fall debut last Friday. You can bet the Greenwave does not want to lose two in a row in front of its loyal supporters.

“Fallon’s a good running team with a very solid defense,” Kittrell said. “They definitely have more depth than Wooster had. We expect to be playing a good football team out there. We know they’ll be hungry after last week.”

Spanish Springs (0-1) at Palma (0-0), Saturday, 7 p.m.

At Spanish Springs practice this week, the Cougars have had to pick themselves up and dust off the dirt, maybe even re-adjust their jaw after taking a few shots to the chin in a 24-7 home loss to Carson in their fall debut five days ago. Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said his team was beaten up physically and that needs to change in a hurry for his club to be successful.

“The bottom line is this happened to us last year, too. It just happened in Week 4 in our league opener against Reno after we were 3-0,” Hare said. “At that point it was almost too late. We weren’t challenged in our preseason and then Reno came out and slugged us under the chin. It took us a while to go figure out how to deal with that. It took us until the last week against McQueen.

“In all honesty, Carson was a team we thought we should beat. We didn’t and now we’ll find out a little bit about ourselves. … If we’re really going to be a good football team at the end of the season, we have to learn how to deal with bad stuff. Instead of learning how to deal with that in the first week of league, we’re learning how to deal with it after the first week of the season. That should help us.”

While Hare has found a positive approach after the frustrating Week 1 defeat, he’ll need his team to use any approach it can to get positive results against Palma, a Salinas, Calif. school, which is routinely one of the top teams from the San Jose area. Hare compared Palma to northern Nevada power McQueen, a club that makes few mistakes and is very opportunistic.

“Palma is very, very sound. They make very few mistakes,” Hare said. “They are not the kind of team that is going to throw four streaks for four touchdowns in four plays. They will wait and just do everything right, not make a mistake and then when you do, they capitalize.

“That’s like McQueen and we have to start learning how to play teams like McQueen before we play McQueen and the other tough teams in our league.”

Spanish Springs had a hotly contested quarterback competition throughout the summer and into preseason camp. Nick Lemons won the starting job and took all the snaps in the Carson loss. While he did rush for 80 yards, he also threw four interceptions, three of which led to Carson scores. Hare said he’ll play more than one quarterback against Palma Saturday night.

“That’s not because of what happened with the four interceptions,” he said. “I’m not going to flip out after one bad game. I feel like we have multiple quarterbacks who had good summers and good double days. It’s not like Nick was way ahead of the other two. I’m not panicking because he made mistakes. My goal is just to have the best possible football team by the time we play Reno in our HDL opener.

“I don’t have to throw the whole playbook at Palma this week. There are not a lot of nice things about losing in Week 1. But when you go undefeated in the non-league like last year, you tend to overlook things that might be problems down the road because you won. When you lose, you don’t overlook anything.”
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