The Rail City’s three prep programs likely have coaches experiencing some of both sentiments. A closer look of games involving Sparks schools follows.
Reed (7-2, 5-0) at North Valleys (6-2, 3-2), tonight 7 p.m.
•Thanks to last weekend’s win over rival Spanish Springs, Reed clinched its second High Desert League title in four years — with a week still left on its conference slate.
So with a playoff appearance looming, will the Raiders still be fired up to play in their final regular season contest?
“There’s nothing I need to say to keep these guys motivated,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “Our guys are fired up to play another week. It’s definitely great for the coaches and kids who have done so many great things to have already wrapped up a league title. It’s a credit to our kids and coaches who have worked so hard.
“I think any program has three goals: to win a league, region and state title. We feel like it’s very important that we’ve achieved that first goal.”
While Reed is working on a short week to prepare for North Valleys, the Panthers are coming off a bye week, giving them extra time to prepare for the RHS squad. Reed escaped its Homecoming six days ago with a 19-6 win over Spanish Springs in which it did not score an offensive touchdown. In addition, Reed had less than 100 yards of total offense. You can bet North Valleys coaches will try to mimic some of the things that made the Spanish Springs defense effective against Reed’s usually high-scoring offense.
“I’m sure the bye has probably helped with their preparation a little bit,” Howren said. “And then when you see a blueprint like that, it probably wouldn’t hurt to try and do some of the things Spanish Springs did.
“We’ve got to do a better job of controlling the things we can control on the field. At times, the Spanish Springs defense took the game to us and we didn’t make attempts to change anything.”
After putting up just two field goals on offense against Spanish Springs, it’s not a stretch to say that Reed’s offensive players are anxious to get back out on the gridiron and prove their performance against the Cougars was a fluke.
“There is a lot of pride out there with our offensive guys,” Howren said. “They knew it after the game Friday night. They were already talking about stepping up as an offense. They know it. We need to get our swagger back a little bit.”
North Valleys opened the season with five straight wins, but is just 1-2 since. Howren said the pass-happy Panthers are a good team that will offer his defense a different challenge.
“Obviously, they’ve done some great things this year,” he said. “They’ve got a wide-open offense that can really put some points on the board and they can throw it. I wouldn’t say it’s the toughest test on our secondary and defense this year, just a different challenge. Most teams in our league have a two-back set. They have a wide-open spread offense. There are some similarities to us, but with a different run-pass ratio.”
McQueen (6-2, 4-1) at Spanish Springs (6-3, 3-2), tonight 7:30 p.m.
•Spanish Springs is in an odd situation. In a best-case scenario for the Cougars they beat McQueen, clinch the HDL’s No. 2 playoff seed and earn a first-round home playoff game. In a worst-case scenario, the SSHS gridders fall to the Lancers, North Valleys upsets Reed and Spanish Springs finds itself out of the playoff picture all together.
“It’s a tough spot, but that’s why you play 10 weeks,” fourth-year Cougars coach Scott Hare said. “People often start talking about rankings and playoff positioning in Week 6, but you play 10 games. Then they tell you if you get to continue to play. ... Hopefully, on Friday, we’re preparing for another game.”
Of course, the Cougar faithful would like nothing more than to see Spanish Springs knock off McQueen for the first time in school history and capture just the school’s second postseason berth and first since 2002, its initial season of varsity football.
Despite the importance of tonight’s game, and after an emotional loss to rival Reed last Friday, Hare said there’s not much different to his team’s workouts this week.
“Our approach is pretty much the same,” he said. “I know that sounds boring, but it’s true. We spent Monday kind of focusing on us. I wanted to make sure the kids understand where our perspective is. And to be honest with you, I think our perspective is good. But I wanted to make sure if the kids had something to say, they had a forum to do so. We dealt with last week and we needed to make sure we’re moving on in a positive way.”
Spanish Springs indeed has a tough test in front of it tonight. The Lancers’ lone losses this fall came at the hands of Centennial, Ariz., one of the top teams in the West, and Reed. Still, McQueen seems to be far from the team that won a Nevada 4A state title a year ago. Hare stressed the MHS club looks to put plenty of pressure on opponents and that his team will need to persevere in the face of that defensive onslaught.
“They blitz and blitz and blitz and run a lot of stuff on defense where they bring a lot of pressure,” he said. “They definitely try to get as many guys in your backfield as they can. You have to keep your poise, but the nice thing is, it can be high reward. If they don’t get there, you can create some big plays.”
The Cougars defense did not give up an offensive touchdown last week to a Reed team that routinely runs up 30-plus points. Unfortunately for Spanish Springs, the Reed defense was just as good if not better, picking off six Spanish Springs passes and returning a pair for touchdowns. Hare admitted his team needs improved play in the passing game, but was quick to point out that responsibility lies on more than just the shoulders of SSHS QB Tanner Oates.
“That was a combination of things,” Hare said. “We walked through the film and dissected each pick. There were two that were 100 percent our receivers’ fault. The last one was a trick play at the end I just drew up, kind of throwing a bunch of mud on the wall and hoping something would stick. Tanner did not have a good night, but the fault is not all his. There’s things in the course of a game that you can’t go back and change. Reed beat us. But we need more guys to make plays.”
Sparks (1-8, 0-5 3A North) at Truckee (8-0, 5-0), Saturday 1:30 p.m.
•It’s been a long season for Sparks players and coaches. Since a Week 1 home win over 4A Wooster, the 3A Railroaders have dropped eight straight games. It doesn’t get any easier for the SHS gridders either. They play the best team on their schedule in the final week of the season.
Truckee, a perennial 3A state powerhouse, once again has a team to be reckoned with. The California school has drubbed opponents by a combined score of 369-52. The Wolverines have not scored fewer than 41 points in a game since September.
“I think this is the best Truckee team we’ve seen (since joining the 3A in 2004-05),” veteran Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “Top to bottom, they have athletes everywhere. They’re quick, physical and big.
“Defensively, they’re fundamentally sound with 11 helmets flying to the ball. They get their reads and they fly. And offensively, they exploit you. They’re very smart about getting you outnumbered through motions. They don’t make many mistakes. Everything is very crisp and very sharp.”
While Truckee has put up some gaudy numbers, Sparks has struggled. The Railroaders have been outscored 326-119 this fall and have not scored more than 10 points in a game since Oct. 2. Despite a 55-7 loss to Fernley a week ago, Kittrell said there were some positives and there is reason for his club to stay motivated.
“This is our championship game,” Kittrell said. “We saw some improvement last week in our run game. We want to get better at that and, defensively, we were a little more sound than we’ve been all year. We want to send our seniors out on a good note, upbeat. We’ve talked to the kids and said, ‘Let’s go be competitive and play as hard as we can.’
“I was very proud last week, just in our effort alone with the 22 kids we’ve got left. We’re building off that. We want to finish strong. There’s no quit in us.”
Sparks has not played a day game yet this season. Kittrell has long liked playing under the sunshine, so it’s an opportunity he relishes.
“Playing on a Saturday afternoon is always exciting for me,” he said. “It will be 20 degrees warmer up there on Saturday afternoon than it would be Friday night. That definitely helps the offense this time of year. When the temperature is warmer you can see the difference in practice, throwing the ball, catching balls, just flat holding onto the ball.”