Despite the seemingly fast pace of the prep season, the trio of Sparks schools are gearing up for Week 5. Here's a closer look at this weekend's matchups involving Sparks schools.
Sparks (1-3) at Pershing County (2-2), Friday 7 p.m.
-Week 5 originally was set to be a bye for the SHS gridders, but Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell, who doubles as the Railroaders athletic director, filled the date in August with the 2A Lovelock school.
Upon further review, he's glad he did.
“We need to play games,” Kittrell said. “Our practices have been really good. We've been physical. We've been doing stuff right in practice. I've been pleased with the way we've been practicing, but it's not translating into game situations. So this is definitely a good week for a non-league game. Hopefully, we can get some things ironed out and be ready for Spring Creek (on Oct. 2).”
Lovelock is perennially one of the top 2A teams in the state. The Mustangs have split so far this season, dumping Yerington and Incline while falling to larger 3A schools Lowry and Dayton. Kittrell had high praise for Lovelock, saying he expects his team to have a tough test on its hands.
“They're a solid team. I was really impressed with how quick they are,” Kittrell said. “They've got a really good, quick, athletic quarterback. They'd compete fine in the 3A.”
Sparks looked ready to even its record early on last week against Dayton. The Railroaders seemed poised to take a 14-6 lead into halftime on the road against the Dust Devils, but it wasn't meant to be as Dayton rallied for a late second-quarter score to tie the game at the intermission. That score turned the tide and Sparks was never the same, getting shut out in the final two quarters.
“We put up a big play and got the momentum and then we gave up the big play so they tied it,” Kittrell said. “We were climbing uphill last week. It was very frustrating after going back and watching the film. But we have to let it go, focus on this week and get better.”
Railroaders coaches believe the best way to improve their squad's fortunes is to get better offensive line play.
“We have not been establishing the line of scrimmage early on. It's taking us a while to get back to that,” Kittrell said. “Running the ball is something we have to do early in games. We have to get early offense. And defensively, it seems like the last couple weeks we've given up the big play. That's got to stop.”
Elko (2-1) at Reed (2-2), Friday 7:30 p.m.
-The Reed football team could not have rebounded in much better fashion than they did last weekend. The east Sparks school was embarrassed at home by Carson 54-27 two weeks ago but answered the bell a week later by throttling defending 4A state champion McQueen, 30-14, on the road.
“I couldn't be more happy for the kids who have worked so hard and had people doubting them,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “They just stayed the course and kept fighting.”
So after an early season Jekyll and Hyde act, is Howren concerned about a letdown this week against an Elko team that missed the playoffs four straight years?
“I don't think you can even talk about that or worry about that,” he said. “If you have a letdown at this point, you're probably not a very good football team. ... We need to come out and get another league victory. It's very important for us to come out, play very hard and very focused. You hate to use the cliche 'one game at a time,' but that's what it is. We beat a great McQueen team, and I'm very proud of the kids, but that's last week. We have to move on to Elko.”
The Indians, who were one of the top programs in northern Nevada from 1998 to 2004, had fallen on hard times. They struggled to even compete against 4A foes, but that trend may be changing. The eastern Nevada school already has a pair of non-league victories against 4A opponents Damonte Ranch and Wooster.
Howren wasted no time in highlighting the improvement of the EHS program.
“This is definitely an improved Elko team,” he said. “The thing I've seen out of them is it's a team settling on its philosophy. It's their second year running the pistol (offense) and they've got a lot of guys coming back from last year. It's just a much better team than I've seen from Elko in a long time. It's definitely the most physical team I've seen from Elko in many years.”
While Howren stressed his team should be ready for a better Elko showing than in recent years, he believes his team also is progressing, especially on offense. Howren noted that his team's blocking took a step in the right direction last week.
“Our offensive line provided great protection for (QB) Tyler (Pine). That allowed him to sit back and make his reads and get balls to receivers,” Howren said. “The biggest thing the kids did on offense was not put themselves into predictable situations. We were not in second- and third-and-longs. The defense was not predicating what we did on offense.
“I've always believed you're getting better every week. We don't want to be playing our best football now. And when you look at the film, we didn't play our best football last week. We still need to get better in so many areas. We just need to keep fine-tuning all the things we are doing.”
Spanish Springs (3-1) at Hug (1-3), Friday 7:30 p.m.
-Following a frustrating opening night loss, Spanish Springs has strung together a triumvirate of impressive victories, the most recent a 29-7 romp last Friday over Reno, a traditional Northern 4A playoff contender.
So can the Cougars back up the triumph over the Huskies in both schools' league opener with another win over a perennial playoff qualifier in Hug?
“We're loose and the nice thing is we really aren't talking a lot about league,” fourth-year Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. “We're taking it game by game. That approach has shown to work for us. We won a game. Now we have another one.
“I think I've been the one the last couple years that's talked too much about league and what that means or the 'P' word (playoffs). Let's just play this week. It's a good week and we've had a good atmosphere at practice.”
The low-key approach seems to be paying dividends. Spanish Springs has turned the ball over just once in its three straight wins and looks to be more relaxed and confident.
“When I first got into coaching, I was all about the offense and how many points did we score? How many yards did we gain? Now, if we score two touchdowns on interception returns, like last week, we don't need to do crazy stuff on offense. This year, it's like, 'No let's punt and make a team go 90 yards.' Then, we'll probably get the ball back. I feel like we're doing what we need to do to be successful.”
One area the Cougars do need to clean up is their apparent affinity for penalties. Spanish Springs had numerous drives stalled due to penalties. The majority of the flags went against the SSHS offensive unit.
“Without penalties, we're moving the ball pretty effectively. We've got to cut those out,” Hare said. “We've got to get away from the holdings and false starts. That's stuff that SYFL (youth) teams wouldn't be happy about, so our guys have to focus more on those little things.”
The Cougars' opponent this week, Hug, may be the best 1-3 team in the Silver State. The Hawks have lost their three games by a combined 11 points. That includes a last-second 20-13 defeat against North Valleys a week ago.
“They could be 4-0,” Hare said. “This is the scariest 1-3 team I've ever seen. They're very athletic and very quick. Coach Stallworth always does a great job. This Hug team is going to find some wins. They are not going 2-8 or 3-7. Hopefully, we do our job and keep them down one more week.”