“We’re coming down the stretch in league,” Reed football coach Ernie Howren said. “The thing right now, and the biggest focus for us, is taking care to do the things we’re supposed to do against Reno. That will get us in a position closer to reaching our goals.”
While Reed hosts Reno in High Desert League play, Sparks hosts 3A North foe Yerington and Spanish Springs fills its HDL bye with a home game against Santee High of Los Angeles.
Here’s a closer look at the trio of games involving Sparks-area schools.
Yerington (1-6) at Sparks (1-6), Friday 7 p.m.
The Railroaders will try to bounce back at home this weekend from their worst loss in years. The SHS gridders were thumped 68-9 six days ago in Winnemucca. So what kind of performance does veteran Sparks coach Rob Kittrell expect when kickoff rolls around?
“We’ll find out Friday night,” he said. “The kids are still practicing hard. Obviously, we didn’t play as well as we would have liked last Friday. I expect us to play a lot harder this Friday. I don’t know if it was the travel or what. Lowry is a good team. They were more prepared.”
Kittrell said the lopsided loss lies solely at his feet.
“Last week falls on me as a head coach. We weren’t prepared and that showed in the game. This week, we plan on being better prepared and ready to give it our best effort.”
The injury bug and grade checks have not been kind to the Railroaders football roster.
“We’re kind of taping things together,” Kittrell said. “Our offensive line is down to using backup linebackers and running backs this week.
“The whole season has been frustrating. Week in and week out not knowing who will be sick and missing guys for a week or more is tough, especially on the offensive line. We haven’t been able to get any continuity. The first two weeks are the last time we had the same offensive line. To have that continuity on your offensive line is very important. The kids develop trust in one another. When you’re plugging holes every week you don’t trust the same way.”
If there is any good news for the Railroaders, it’s that their guests this week are in a similar position. The Lions are riding a five-game losing streak and have been outscored 227-27.
So this is a game Kittrell and his Sparks squad should be competitive in, right?
“Yeah, but I felt that way last week and it didn’t happen,” Kittrell said. “I feel if we come out and play well, we’ll have a chance to win at the end."
After suffering the taste of 59-point losses, players can become pretty bitter. Sparks coaches and athletes are anxious to get back on the gridiron, forget about their experiences of a week ago and show it was just an aberration.
“You want to get back out there and see if you can get better,” Kittrell said. “That was an embarrassing loss.”
Reno (2-5) at Reed (5-2), 7:30 p.m.
Reno coaches and players came into the fall campaign expecting to compete for a High Desert League crown, but their plans have not quite come to fruition. The Huskies are winless in conference play through three games and needed a 35-34 win over Watsonville, Calif. last week to stop a three-game losing skid. While Reno has indeed suffered through its fair share of struggles, Howren said there is reason to be wary of the Huskies.
“Obviously, Reno has not played as well as they would have liked,” he said. “They have the potential to be a much better football team. I think this is a good football team that just happens to be 2-5 at this point. You have a team here that has nothing to lose and everything to gain. They want to put themselves in a position to win football games.”
That’s something Reed has done well over the past month. After starting the season 1-2, the Raiders have strung together four straight wins and sit 3-0 in HDL affairs, a mark that already includes a win over defending 4A state and HDL champion McQueen. Is a league title in the cards for the Raiders?
“The approach for us is to focus on Reno, but the other thing we keep talking about is that we still have North Valleys and Spanish Springs on our schedule, two very good football teams,” Howren said. “I don’t think at this point you can say much about a league championship other than you must go out and win big games in the next couple of weeks.”
Reed’s offense was effective enough to help the Raiders beat up Hug 28-3 a week ago, but its defense is what had Howren smiling from ear to ear. The east Sparks school has allowed just nine points combined in its last two outings and has not given up more than 14 points during its four-game winning streak.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our defense right now,” Howren said. “Our offense in the first half last week only scored one touchdown. We needed our defense to keep the game close at that point and allow our offense time to get back on track. That’s exactly what it did.
“The defense is playing as a team. All 11 guys are doing their jobs. Kids are trusting their teammates and when you’ve got all 11 guys on the same page, there’s not many holes.”
Santee, Calif. (4-1) at Spanish Springs (5-2), Friday 7 p.m.
A year ago Spanish Springs was stuck with a late-season bye week it could not fill. This year SSHS coach Scott Hare was able to fill it with a Los Angeles school willing to make the trek to northern Nevada. The fourth-year Cougars coach admits it’s not optimum to step out of league play in mid-October, but he is glad his players won’t be sitting on a couch Friday night.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about this game,” Hare said. “I think it’s good we play on Friday. The kids get used to playing on Fridays so it’s good to keep that consistency. But then there is the ‘I’ word: injuries. You hope and knock on wood you get through this OK.
“I like that we should get the opportunity to not necessarily empty the bench, but get some other guys some real game experience. You don’t guarantee that because you want to win, but hopefully you can game plan enough to get some guys in who you feel deserve the opportunity.”
In playing Santee, Spanish Springs will get an opportunity to play against one of the top athletes on the west coast, senior Tevin Carter. The Falcons’ fleet-footed senior won the 200-meter at the CIF’s Los Angeles Section track and field championships. He also passed on a scholarship offer from USC to sign at Cal.
“He is phenomenal,” Hare said. “He will be far and away the best pure athlete we see all year. With Reed waiting in the wings, and all the weapons they have, it will be good to see a weapon like Carter … They will run him on a reverse, shuffle him into the back field, pitch and throw the ball to him. They will try to get him 15 to 20 touches in some way.”
While the Falcons sport the 4-1 record, Hare still isn’t quite sure what to expect. He pointed to the combined 7-17 record of their opponents. The last two weeks, Santee has won by a combined score of 111-7, but their opponents in those two games are both winless.
“Their schedule is on the weaker side so it’s hard to know how good they really are,” Hare said. “When you watch on film, they look really good. The two films I have, neither of their opponents has won a game. But it looks like they’ve got a lot of weapons. It will be an interesting matchup. It will be different to play a team like this late in the year.”