Vaqueros face Spartans with playoff seeds at stake

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Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter

The band was warming up for its fifth quarter performance and most of the crowd was still rocking last Friday night when the Fernley Vaqueros huddled in the end zone for the postgame address by coach Chris Ward and his staff.

And for the first time all season, they felt as if they’d given those backers something to celebrate.

“Hell yeah, without a doubt, man,” Ward said. “Finally we started clicking. We’re getting perimeter blocking, running hard up in between the tackles, picking up blitzes. They did a real good job.”

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The Vaqueros scored early, late and in between, rolling to a 52-20 win over Sparks, that put them firmly into the playoff chase, and possibly, with a few more similar performances, even the chance to earn a home playoff game.

But Ward wasn’t thinking that far down the line, not with a rather large matchup looming this Friday, against Spring Creek.

“Right now we’re worried about Spring Creek,” he said. “We’ll worry about playoffs when we get there.”

The Vaqueros moved to 3-4 overall, 3-3 in the Northern 3A, tied with Lowry for fifth place, a tie the Vaqueros would win by having beaten the Buckaroos earlier this season.

Spring Creek is in a three-way tie for second place with Truckee and Elko at 5-1. But the Spartans haven’t yet played Truckee or Elko, so a win over the Spartans Friday would still keep the Vaqueros alive for the fourth playoff seed, and a chance to host a first-round game.

With five players who have run for more than 100 yards, the Spartans have a versatile and diverse running game, based mostly out of power formations. Junior Reed Westwood, with 758 yards on 119 carries and nine touchdowns, gives the Spartans a true lead rusher, while junior quarterback Jeff Guthrie has completed 33 of 75 passes for 523 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions, and run 56 times for 297 yards and eight more scores. Junior Kyle Owsley is the leading receiver with 16 catches for 289 yards.

“The power game is the cornerstone of their offensive attack, but they do like to try to do some different things formation-wise and do some passing out of it too,” Ward said.

Defensively, the Spartans most often play an even man front, but Ward said the Vaqueros need to be prepared to face some things they haven’t seen on film.

“It hasn’t been out of the realm for them to show one defensive front and then come out in something else against us,” he said. “We got to make sure we’re ready to roll.”

Being ready to roll from the opening kickoff was the Vaqueros’ goal heading into last week’s game against Sparks, and it went so well, they had to set a new goal at halftime.

It took the Vaqueros just five plays to score the game’s first touchdown, on a 4-yard run by quarterback Miles Steele. Though Sparks answered in two plays, the Railraoders only found the end zone twice more, and the second one was on a fumble return with 1:06 left in the game, when the Vaqueros starters had already long been on the sideline.

“We were able to start the game the way we should,” Ward said. “It was a great start, now let’s be a finisher. We made that as our halftime goal.”

Steele threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Kuha with 4:42 left in the first quarter to make it 14-7, and Kuha made it 21-7 with a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown with 2:58 left in the quarter.

The Vaqueros added a 23-yard field goal and a 25-yard touchdown run by Anthony Thompson to lead 31-13 at the half. Brandon Reyes added two touchdowns in the third quarter, and after a 25-yard touchdown run by Steele in the fourth quarter was called back by a penalty, sophomore Kyle Jones scored his first varsity touchdown with 5:28 left in the game.

In their first two wins, the Vaqueros let a big lead slip away and had to survive a final drive by Lowry, then they overcame a slow start to slip past South Tahoe.

“I hope it builds confidence in them that we can do the stuff that we’re asking them to do,” Ward said. “And the other thing is good, is that we were able to get some other kids in the game, and not just in the game, but get them some quality reps.”

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