The win over the Lancers was the first in the eight-year history of Spanish Springs varsity football. It also gives Spanish Springs its first playoff berth in seven years and just its second postseason invitation in school history.
“I feel really good,” Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. “This team put in the work. This team gave no lip service. They really put in the work from January to summer to now. The fun thing for me is to see them do the work and then get rewarded.”
There was more good news for Spanish Springs (7-3, 4-2 HDL). The victory clinches the HDL’s second playoff seed and a home playoff game for the Cougars next Friday against Sierra League No. 3 seed Galena (6-4).
The first half was all Spanish Springs. The Cougars found the scoring column first and never trailed. They marched 67 yards on their second drive of the game to take an early 6-0 lead. SSHS quarterback Tanner Oates found Thai Ivory in the end zone for a touchdown on a third-and-goal play from the McQueen 10-yard line. Brandon Pelfrey’s extra-point kick was blocked but Spanish Springs had the early lead with 56 seconds left in the initial quarter.
The Cougars extended their lead to 9-0 when Pelfrey booted a 24-yard field goal at the 5:59 mark of the second quarter.
The points came largely after Spanish Springs caught a break minutes earlier. It looked like McQueen had converted a first down on a fake punt pass for 38 yards on a fourth-and-16 play. Unfortunately for McQueen, it was flagged for an ineligible receiver down field penalty that nixed the big gain. In addition, the penalty was a loss of down and the SSHS gridders got possession at the McQueen 32.
“That was a big deal. I didn’t expect the loss of down and our ball right there,” Hare said. “Even if the call would have gone against us, I have to say the officials did a nice job of getting together and discussing the play. It was really good officiating at that point ... and it was a huge call. It got us three more points on the board and it makes them feel like they kind of have to press.”
Another McQueen miscue led to another Spanish Springs touchdown. Cougars cornerback Austin Rauh stepped in front of a Lancers receiver, intercepted a pass and tip-toed out of bounds to set the SSHS squad up at the McQueen 42. Spanish Springs cashed in and scored on a 15-yard touchdown run by Anthony Acosta. Pelfrey made the PAT kick on his second try and Spanish Springs had a 16-0 lead with 2:36 still left before halftime.
Acosta had 64 rushing yards on 17 carries. Rauh racked up 120 yards on just 11 rushes.
“The bottom line is we were outplayed and we were outcoached,” McQueen coach Jim Snelling said. “We win as a team and we lose as a team. Spanish Springs outplayed us and the deserving team tonight won.
“The nice thing for us is this is not the end of the season. Hopefully, we’ll bounce back in the playoffs. This is not an ending. Hopefully just an eye opener, we need to get better.”
McQueen (6-3) will be the HDL’s No. 3 seed and travel to play Sierra League runner-up Douglas (6-3) next week.
The halftime break did not slow the Cougars’ momentum. On the second play of the half, on a second-and-12 play, Oates found Nick Lemons running free down the middle. Lemons hauled in a pass in stride and ran away from his McQueen defender to an 87-yard touchdown bomb, the longest Spanish Springs pass play in five years. Just over a minute into the third quarter, Spanish Springs had a 23-0 advantage.
Oates rebounded in a big way for Spanish Springs. Six days after throwing six interceptions, two that were returned for touchdowns in a 19-6 loss to rival Reed, he was much better. The Cougars junior signal caller completed 3 of 6 passes for 113 yards and two TDs without a pick.
“Mentally, after a game like Reed, you’re crushed,” Oates said. “You want to beat your rival so bad, when it doesn’t happen, it’s hard. But coach and I had a talk. He said to let it go and I did. I’m so happy right now.”
Hare had plenty of accolades for his field general as well.
“There was no doubt in my mind that Tanner would bounce back. He came in with the mindset that last week was behind him. Not everybody can come back from that,” Hare said.
McQueen avoided a shutout with a 97-yard scoring drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters. Jackson Tate handled the scoring honors for the Lancers with a 1-yard touchdown dive. McQueen’s pass fell incomplete on a two-point conversion try so the northwest Reno school trailed 23-6 with 8:55 showing on the game clock.
The Lancers had a last-gasp effort to stay in contention. They drove 79 yards but saw their drive stall out on a fourth-and-1 play at the 1-yard line. Cougars linebackers Luke Arciniega and Humberto Espinoza stood up McQueen running back Nick Shepard short of the goal line with 2:47 left in the final quarter.
McQueen did get the ball back late and scored on a Shepard 1-yard TD run with 28.9 seconds left in the game. The Lancers converted a two-point conversion, but it was too little too late.