Here’s a closer look at the trio of matchups involving local schools.
Elko (2-3, 0-2) at Spanish Springs (4-2, 2-1),
Friday 7:30 p.m.
It’s Homecoming week at Spanish Springs and students have more to be excited about than just the week’s activities. They have got a pretty darned good football team, too. The Cougar gridders have some quality wins under their belts, including a 24-14 win last week over previously unbeaten and top-ranked North Valleys.
Fourth-year Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare likes what he is seeing from his Cougars.
“We had our best practice of the year, by far, last night,” Hare said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “We had some good practices leading up to North Valleys but Tuesday’s was really good. I haven’t seen the ups and downs from our kids. They have been consistent at practice. There’s almost no talk of who we play. Our practices are steady and I think it’s showing in the way we’re playing.”
Spanish Springs has only reached the playoffs once in the eight-year history of its varsity football program and that came in its initial season of 2002. Since Hare took over in 2006, he’s been driven by making the SSHS squad a postseason qualifier. He thought his team had gotten over the hump two years ago when it upset Bishop Manogue, but the Cougars came out flat a week later and were beaten soundly by a struggling Fallon team, essentially nixing the Spanish Springs playoff hopes.
Hare said this week has a similar feel.
“In the four years I’ve been here, this will be the best Elko team we’ve faced,” Hare said. “This reminds me of the Fallon week a couple years ago where we were coming off a big win against Manogue that was good for our program. We needed to beat Fallon and I just keep thinking now, ‘Be careful.’”
Spanish Springs probably won’t have to worry much about getting upset if its defense and special teams continue to play as well as they have. The Cougars have gotten a handful of scores from the units in recent weeks that have helped the team hold opponents at bay. The Cougars blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown and returned an interception for a touchdown in last weekend’s road win at North Valleys.
Those kinds of scores have some critics asking if the Spanish Springs offense is pulling its weight. Hare thinks those questions are unfair.
“In the 16 NFL games last weekend, eight had teams that scored on offense and special teams. And seven of those won,” Hare said. “I’m happy with all three phases of our game. I’m not going to apologize for scoring on special teams and defense. Good teams find ways to win.”
Hare said he’d be more concerned about his offense failing to pull its weight if some of the stats were different. He would, however, like to see his offense clean up some mistakes.
“We need to get more first downs and control tempo. And we need to catch balls when they’re thrown to us, but I’m tickled pink we’re getting scores and not giving them back,” Hare said. “I’d be concerned if we only had 90 yards of offense, but right now we’re getting five yards a carry and nearly 200 yards rushing every week. We just need to find the end zone when we get there.”
Reed (4-2, 2-0 HDL) at Hug (3-3, 2-1), 7:30 p.m.
The Reed Raiders are facing a Hug team that seems to have turned the corner. After starting the season 1-3 with a trio of tough losses, the Hawks have apparently found the win button on their keyboard, coming out on the correct side of the scoreboard in their last two games.
“The thing we’ve seen with this Hug team is that it could easily be 6-0,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “The three games they have lost are by a combined 11 points. They have played well. They are steady offensively and defensively. They’ve got weapons. They’ve got guys flying around for them and they do a lot of great things.”
A year ago, Hug won a donnybrook over Reed, 53-47, in a game that lasted nearly four hours. While the Hawks still have talented athletes, they have not shown the ability to score like they did a year ago. They have only scored more than 27 once and three times they have been held to 16 or fewer points.
So what kind of game does Howren expect from Friday’s HDL tilt?
“Honestly, I think it’s one of those games that could go either way,” he said. “The reason I say that is because both defenses, Hug’s and ours, are really playing well. We both have fast, big guys making things happen. And then on the other side of that, offensively, we both have guys that can make things happen. So, it’s wide open.”
Reed looks like it’s starting to play better each week. The Raiders scored 37 points two weeks ago and followed that up with a 54-point onslaught last week at Franklin of Stockton, Calif. The Raiders defense is on the self-improvement ride as well, allowing 14 and six points in its most recent two outings.
“I think we got off the bus last week and hit the ground running,” Howren said. “I’m really proud of our kids. They came off the bus flying around, stuck to the game plan and just did a tremendous job. The biggest thing was we executed in all three phases of the game against Franklin. We blocked a punt for a touchdown. Our defense had numerous three-and-outs and any time you rack up over 500 yards of offense, you’re doing something right there, too.
“I’m pleased with where we’re at, but we’re always striving to get better,” he continued. “If not, you’re settling and getting complacent. I think we can be better and I mean that in a good way. I think our kids have not played their best football. We still have a lot of football ahead of us.”
Howren talked about the strength of the High Desert League with teams like Hug and rival Spanish Springs still left on the schedule. He said his team must be more opportunistic when advantageous situations rear their heads.
“There are so many good teams in our league, we have to create opportunities and take advantage of those when they present themselves,” he said. “When you’re playing good teams, first of all those opportunities are not going to come along often and secondly you’re probably putting yourself in a position to play catch-up if you don’t take advantage.”
Sparks (1-5, 0-2 3A North) at Lowry (3-2, 1-1),
Friday 7 p.m.
Throughout Sparks High’s summer conditioning program, a key focus was positive reinforcement and helping teammates emphasize and communicate positives to each other. Railroaders coach Rob Kittrell was sure he got instant dividends from that approach on opening night when his club rallied from a second-half deficit to knock off 4A Wooster.
Unfortunately for Sparks fans and players, there have been few positives on the gridiron since. The SHS squad has dropped five straight games since its Week 1 win. After every loss, Kittrell has lauded his players for bouncing back and working hard in practice. He’s praised his players’ mental make-up and their ability to fight on in spite of the mounting defeats. He admitted that’s not getting any easier
“We’re taking a final on that mental make-up test this week,” he quipped. “But I think our kids will be ready to go Friday. We’ve done some things differently in practice that will hopefully help our consistency on offense. Defensively, we’ve really watered things down the last couple weeks and that’s seemed to have helped. We’ll stay pretty base this week and that’s allowed us to play a lot quicker since we’re not thinking as much.
“I definitely think we’ll give it a good effort. Our key corps of kids is still good and working hard.”
Railroaders coaches believe they have found a key to their offensive success after closely analyzing recent game film. Kittrell said when his team gets to the line of scrimmage and gets the snap off within two seconds, results showed a positive play of five or more yards, but when it took longer, the results were small gains or negative plays.
“That’s attributed to bad snaps, quarterback footwork, running back footwork or someone taking the wrong step up front. So we’ve really tried to focus on our tempo and getting the play ran correctly,” Kittrell said. “But a lot of that is rhythm. Once we get out of rhythm, it’s almost like we have a self-destruct button we push.”
Sparks High’s opponent this week, Lowry of Winnemucca, has suffered back-to-back lopsided losses. However, the defeats have come at the hands of Truckee and Lassen, two of the top programs of schools their size around. Before the losses, Lowry opened the season with three consecutive wins.
“Lowry is a good ball club, much improved over last year,” Kittrell said. “They are going to continue to get better. The last two weeks they’ve played two really good teams. As physical as Truckee and Lassen are, I’m sure it will help Lowry become a better team.
“Lowry is pretty athletic at the skill positions and they’re pretty big up front,” he continued. “Recently, we’ve seen more run-oriented teams, but they are pretty similar to Lovelock in that they’ll run and pass. They have different styles in how they do it, but their philosophies of mixing in the run and pass are the same.”