Here’s a closer look.
Reed (3-2) at Franklin (2-1)
•The Raiders take a break from High Desert League play as the HDL’s master schedule gave the east Sparks school its bye. RHS coaches quickly filled the opening with Franklin High of Stockton, Calif. The two schools have never met on the football field before.
“We don’t know much about them,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “We’ve had one game to scout them. We know they’re a very big team with good speed. They are by far one of the biggest teams we’ll see all season. They have four guys at 300 pounds or more.”
With Reed’s HDL game against Elko played at home last weekend, the Raiders fast-approaching trek to central California marks its longest road trip of the season. Howren is excited to take his team on the road into unfamiliar surroundings.
“It’s always important to get road games and get the kids exposed to that,” the Raiders’ ninth-year coach said. “Because at some point, in the playoffs, you’ll be traveling. I think it’s important to get that feel of being on the road and stepping out of your comfort zone.
“I think we’ve done the best you can do when you have a bye in the middle of your league season. The kids are doing a great job of buying into this road game and preparing for Franklin.”
Reed has rebounded well from an upset home loss to Carson three weeks ago. Since the embarrassing defeat, the Raiders have bounced back to drub defending 4A state champion McQueen and Elko in their first two league games. Howren admitted his team has experienced some ups and downs through the first half of its season, but he added that he’s liked the way it has responded.
“I think the kids have done really well in the games we’ve won and I’d like to say with the losses we’ve had, we’ve learned a lot and that’s made us a better team,” he said. “I still think we have a lot of room to improve and that’s a good thing. We aren’t getting lucky. I believe if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. We’re on the track to getting better and that’s all I can ask of the kids.”
Reed came into the season as the favorite of many to win a conference crown. With its two wins to open league play, Reed is on track to doing that, as well. Howren has always been a coach who has worked to get his team to focus only on the task at hand, but also he has embraced long-term lofty goals.
“There’s no reason as a program we should not have winning a league title as a realistic goal,” he said. “We’re in good position, but we’ve still got four more teams, all four good football teams, to play. We’ll have to keep improving and we’ll have to fight through some adversity at some point if not in all four of those games.”
Spanish Springs (3-2, 1-1) at North Valleys (5-0, 2-0)
•Not many prep football fans around northern Nevada gave North Valleys much of a chance to compete this fall in the perennially tough High Desert League. Those folks were dead wrong. The Panthers already have two wins over traditional HDL playoff qualifiers — Hug and Reno — and they are the lone undefeated team in the Northern 4A.
Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare was among the North Valleys skeptics in the preseason but he’s been nothing but impressed with what he’s seen from the Panthers. He said the north Reno school is extremely dangerous.
“When they have the opportunity to get a fumble or interception, they capitalize,” Hare said. “When they see the chance to throw the long pass, they take it. They are a big play team and that’s definitely worked for them.
“I don’t care if they’re in third-and-15, they are still in a situation where they can get a first down or score. At no point do they feel like they can’t score. Right now they’ve got a ton of confidence. It’s their homecoming game. We have to be ready and understand that we’re walking into a lion’s den.”
Spanish Springs should know what that’s like. They had to travel across town to meet a quality, but desperate Hug team a week ago. While the Cougars came in sky high with three straight wins, the host Hawks played like a team that needed to win to keep their season alive and they did just that, handing their guests a 38-6 shellacking.
“We made some mistakes, but Hug played a really solid football game from start to finish and sometimes you have to give the other team their due when they play that well,” Hare said. “We lost to Carson on opening night and they have gone on to prove they’re a good football team, but we made way too many mistakes to beat anybody that night. Hug would’ve beaten a lot of people last weekend."
The Spanish Springs defense was torched by the Hawks last Friday, giving up more than 300 yards through the air. Hare certainly wasn’t happy about those results, but he’s not worried about them becoming a trend either. He pointed out that a week earlier his secondary looked stellar in a win against Reno and returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns.
“I don’t think I’m as much concerned about the defense. Hug made some really good plays and they were opportunistic. Our coverage wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination,” Hare said.
“Against Hug, we fumbled on our first touch of each half. Obviously, you can’t do that. It takes the wind out of you a little bit. We have to clean that up, but we only ran 41 plays in the game. A week earlier against Reno we ran 41 plays in the first half. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other guy.”
Spanish Springs had four turnovers in its season debut loss to Carson, but then had just one giveaway in its next three games, all wins. Hare would like to see more of that kind of ball protection from his team this week against North Valleys as opposed to the one that relapsed at Hug.
Spring Creek (2-3, 0-2 3A North) at Sparks (1-4, 0-1)
•The two 3A North League rivals are in similar positions. Sparks has dropped four straight games after a season-opening win. Spring Creek won its first two tilts, but has dropped three straight since. Both teams are hungry for a victory, especially of the league variety.
“With them being 0-2 in league, they are in the same boat as last year,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “That’s when we ran into a very angry Spring Creek team out in Elko. I anticipate much of the same when they come to town Friday night.
“This is an important week for us. Yes, we’re 1-4 overall but we’re 0-1 in league. A win here and we’re right back to .500 in league. That gets us right back on track, so this is a big week.”
The biggest concern for Kittrell and his coaching staff is the Railroaders defense. The SHS unit has been gashed for more than 40 points twice in five games, including a season-high 46 last week against 2A Lovelock. Kittrell stressed that there is not just an isolated area to correct in regard to recent defensive woes.
“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “We’ll get slightly out of position and we don’t have the football maturity to make up for that. If we get out of position, guys run by us. The football experience our guys have is like we’re playing a step behind instead of playing the same speed. And then, when we’re out of place, we’re not in the proper position to wrap up and tackle.”
Kittrell believes the best way to help his defense is to get sustained drives on offense. The Railroaders’ veteran skipper did not like the way his offense was struggling to establish its running attack early in games, but he said that was better last week.
“We’re going to have to keep the ball out of their offense’s hands,” he said. “When they get rolling offensively, they’re pretty tough to stop and then with the troubles we’ve had defensively, that would hurt. So if we can put long drives together and score, that can keep us in the game. Plus, in the end, we can’t turn the ball over. We had two crucial turnovers last week that buried us. We have to play good offensive football and keep the clock moving while finishing drives.”
Sparks has been on the road each of the last two weeks and has played only one home game in the last five weeks. Kittrell is hoping some home cooking only helps his team this week.
“Even though it’s only been 90-minute trips, it feels like we’ve been on the school bus a lot the last couple weeks,” Kittrell said. “I’m looking forward to playing in the friendly confines.”