The Rail City’s prep gridiron programs are among that group. Reed and Spanish Springs kick off 4A High Desert League play against traditional northern Nevada powers and Sparks faces a tough test against a 3A North rival.
Below is a closer look at the games involving local schools.
Reed (1-2) at McQueen (2-1), Friday 7:30 p.m.
-Football fans of Reed High are not used to seeing their beloved Raiders lose back-to-back games. However, the perennially tough Raiders have done just that. After a Week 1 win at Manogue, Reed has been handed consecutive lopsided losses, to Oceanside, Calif. two weeks ago and Carson last weekend.
So how is the RHS squad handling the adversity and what approach is veteran coach Ernie Howren taking with his team in workouts this week?
“Obviously, sitting at 1-2 is not where we wanted or expected to be at this point,” he said. “The biggest thing we’ve talked to the kids about is what you want, and what you expect, those are things you have to be able to control. You can’t just want it (winning). You have to go make it happen. We’re trying to get back to the point where we make it happen rather than where we expect it to happen.
“I think any time you have a couple losses like we’ve had, you sit back, evaluate and think about where to make adjustments. You identify what you have to refocus on.”
After suffering losses to one of the top teams in California and a much-improved Carson club, the road to winning does not get any easier for Reed. The Raiders now gear up for a road game in their league opener against defending state champion McQueen, whose lone preseason defeat came at the hands of Centennial, Arizona, which is ranked nationally by USA Today.
“Looking at our record can get people frustrated. As coaches and players we are definitely frustrated with the results so far,” Howren said. “But we knew the expectations going in. We knew we had a tough non-league schedule ahead of us. Now we’re opening league against McQueen and we know the other teams in league are good. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we’re ready for this. It’s what we expected.”
Reed has given up 85 points the last two weeks. Raiders coaches believe some of those problems were due more to good field position given up by the RHS offense and special teams than defensive woes. Still, against an opportunistic McQueen team that has put up 73 points of its own the last two weeks, Reed will need to be better to compete with the Lancers.
Howren said there’s not much change at McQueen, stressing the Lancers are always as good as advertised.
“They are a traditional McQueen team. They play hard and they play fast,” he said. “Defensively, they’re going to come after you with different fronts and a stunt game. They have an excellent secondary and offensively, it’s what it has always been. They’re going to run. They want to establish the run. They are going to come after you as they’ve got a very aggressive offensive line-up and good skill guys to back that up.”
Reno (1-2) at Spanish Springs (2-1), Friday 7:30 p.m.
-There may not be another school in northern Nevada that has seen the perception of its football squad change more in the last two weeks. The Cougars lost at home in Week 1 to a Carson team that had struggled in recent seasons. But then Spanish Springs bounced back to win a tough road game in Salinas, Calif. over Palma, a traditional Central California power. The SSHS squad followed that up with a home romp over Galena. In addition, the loss to Carson doesn’t look too bad considering in recent weeks the Senators dropped a nailbiter to defending 4A champ McQueen and rocked Reed on its home field.
The Cougars are now looking to continue their mini hot streak by winning their conference opener at home against Reno.
“I think the truth is we can lose to anybody, but we also realize we can beat anybody,” fourth-year Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. “In a two-week span we were questioning ourselves, but learned if we go out, work hard and play the game the right way, we can beat anybody.
“I thought we’d be 2-1 at this point, but to be honest I thought it would come a different way. We scheduled this way for a purpose. We didn’t want to be 3-0 going into league feeling like we were better than everyone else. That’s what happened to us last year and Reno drilled us.”
A year ago the Cougars posted a perfect 4-0 mark in relatively easy non-league clashes. On the flip side, Reno was just 1-3 against a challenging schedule. When Spanish Springs and Reno met in their league opener, the Huskies rolled to a 35-6 victory. That one-sided defeat shaped much of how Hare approached his offseason work.
“I know they embarrassed us last year,” Hare said. “They outcoached us and outworked us. We came out feeling good and they shoved it down our throat. Everything I have to go by is from last year. I know Reno is well coached. They always get after it and they always get better as the year goes on. Whatever I have on film, I know (Reno) coach (Dan) Avansino will have them better in Week 4 than in Week 3. So, we need to be better, too.”
In their Week 1 loss, Spanish Springs turned the ball over four times, all via the interception. Nick Lemons handled the Cougars quarterbacking chores in the opener, but since has shared time with Tanner Oates. The results have been positive for Spanish Springs, who have not turned the ball over at all in their two games since. Hare thinks the key is keeping his offense in a rhythm.
“We’ve been rotating both effectively. Sometimes, they’ll play in the same series,” he said. “The thing I realized in the loss to Carson was our tempo was slow. We run the quarterback so much, if the ball is run to the other side of the field, rather than having him come all the way back to get the play and run back to the huddle, we’ll just switch quarterbacks. That way our tempo is much better.
“We haven’t turned the ball over since Carson. Obviously, that’s huge. We had four against them and three were in the red zone. We’ve talked about protecting the football and doing what we need to do to keep teams off balance. We’ve been keeping defenses more honest than in the past.”
The Cougars coach is not looking to get any revenge against Reno and he’s not overly intense with his team about starting league play.
“We just have to play to have fun,” he said. “We had fun in the summer and got a lot done. We had fun in double days and got a lot done. We didn’t have any fun against Carson. Then we went out against Palma and played loose. We had fun. … We’re just going to go out, play hard, play loose and have fun. It doesn’t matter that it’s a league game. We’ll let the chips fall where they fall.”
Sparks (1-2) at Dayton (3-0), Friday 7 p.m.
-Like Reed, Sparks has suffered two straight humiliating losses. And again like Reed, in its league debut Sparks faces an opponent among the favorites to win a conference crown. If there is a silver lining, Sparks has played a formidable non-league slate, competing against a pair of 4A schools and one of the top 3A schools in Nevada: Virgin Valley. The Railroaders should be battle tested for the 3A North race.
“Our kids are tired of losing, that’s for sure,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “The kids know the (important league) season starts this week and we have to be more consistent.”
One area Sparks certainly needs to improve consistently is in the trenches, especially up front offensively.
“We’ve got to be able to run the ball and stop the run,” Kittrell said. “That’s our major focus. We knew we’d had a little trouble stopping the run, but Virgin Valley shut us down running the ball. That was really frustrating. We’re working hard to get that going again. … We watched film and offensively our line was not as crisp as the first two weeks. Offensive line continuity is important. Virgin Valley did a heck of a job but there were mistakes we can correct.”
Dayton goes into Friday’s conference clash boasting a perfect early season record, garnering wins over 4A South Tahoe and 2A powers Lovelock and Battle Mountain. Kittrell believes the Dust Devils are on the verge of regaining the swagger they had a few years ago when they were one of the top 3A teams in Nevada.
“They’ve got that winning attitude back,” the Railroaders’ veteran skipper said. “You can see it watching them on film. They’re very quick and very scrappy. They play hard. Their lines are bigger on both sides of the ball. Before the season, I figured Dayton would be better this year and they are.”
Sparks does not go into its 3A North opener with a lot of momentum, but SHS coaches think their team needs and is ready to play a league game.
“We’re definitely ready to play a league game,” Kittrell said. “The winner of this game is going to have a leg up heading into the playoff hunt. You aren’t in if you win, but you’ve got a leg up. Last year we were on the edge of being in the playoffs. We got in, but Lowry is better, Fernley is better. It will be tough.”