Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
On a night when their defense dominated, two key penalties and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown resulted in a 7-0 loss to Bishop (Calif.) Union in the season opener for the Fernley High School football team Friday night.
The Vaqueros held Bishop to 171 yards of offense and just seven first downs but had two touchdowns called back because of holding penalties and they came up empty on both of their trips into the red zone.
“I got mixed emotions about that game, because I do think we were the better football team, to be honest with you,” Fernley coach Anfernee Sloan said. “We could use a million reasons why we lost that football game, but in the end, they had more points than us and we’re just going to go and get back after it.”
Both defenses were equally dominant, with Bishop holding the Vaqueros to just 93 yards of total offense. Keeshawn Love led the Vaqueros with 82 yards on 16 carries.
“Offense is like chess; defense is like checkers. I think defense you can clean up mistakes by just playing fast.,” Sloan said. “Offensively not the case. One dude messes up, it’s going to show.”
After losing a fumble on their first offensive drive, the Vaqueros appeared to have taken an early lead when quarterback Bryce Stephens connected on a 56-yard touchdown pass to Wyatt Green, but it was nullified by a holding penalty.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Vaqueros got the ball back on their own 29-yrd line with about a minute left in the first half.
On third down, Bishop safety Nello Dondero scooped up a fumble at the Fernley 30, dodged a tackler and went the rest of the way untouched for a touchdown.
Sloan said the Vaqueros were just trying to run out the clock in order to make an adjustment to a defensive alignment Bishop was using.
“We were trying to make on field adjustments, and I was like no, let’s just get to the half and make these adjustments,” Sloan said. “That unfortunately was the biggest point right there, and that was why I called that timeout. Maybe I jinxed it, I don’t know.”
An interception thwarted Fernley’s first possession of the second half after a promising beginning to the drive.
Fernley put together its best drive of the game on the next possession, but on fourth-and-2 at the Bishop 19, the Vaqueros tried to run a no-huddle hurry-up and got stopped short.
“I was actually a little disappointed because I didn’t even know it was fourth down,” Sloan said. “In that case I would have kicked the field goal just because we had all the elements.”
Fernley’s defense then gave the offense two golden opportunities.
First, they forced a Bishop punt on the third play of the fourth quarter, but the punter couldn’t handle a low snap and Harley Denison recovered the ball at the Bishop 30. The Vaqueros couldn’t get a first down, but Johnnie Williams pinned the Broncos deep in their own territory with a punt to the Bishop 10.
Then, the Vaqueros forced another fumble, and recovered at the Bishop 3. On second down, Riley McCullar took a toss play for a 5-yard touchdown run, but that was also called back by a holding penalty, when a Fernley receiver pancaked a defensive back in the end zone.
“When I see a guy getting driven backwards, vertically speaking, and he’s getting forklifted down to his back, that’s not holding in my eyes,” Sloan said.
That moved the ball back to the 10-yard line, but on the next play, the Vaqueros lost three yards when a receiver caught a pass with his knee on the ground, and then they were assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
That moved the ball back to the 28-yard line, where Stephens was flushed from the pocket and scrambled, but could only get to the Bishop 13. That should have only been third down, because second down should have been repeated after holding penalty on second down. Instead, Bishop took over on downs.
After the game, Sloan said the referee apologized for losing track of the downs.
“But again, that’s the outcome, that’s the cards that we were dealt,” Sloan said.
The Vaqueros forced yet another punt and got the ball back for one last desperation drive. They started off with a 16-yard pass from Stephens to Keeshawn Love, then on third-and-22, Stephens connected with McCullar for 23 yards to the Fernley 47. After the Vaqueros spiked the ball to stop the clock on first down, Stephens was sacked on second down and passes on third and fourth down were incomplete.
The Vaqueros now have a bye next week before they play their second game of the season Sept. 1 at Wooster. While a bye after the first week of the season would not normally be favorable, Sloan said it might just be a good thing, given the number of correctable mistakes the Vaqueros made Friday night.
“Maybe we just need another week to clean up some little things,” he said. “Not just big glaring issues, just a bunch of little things that accumulate, which makes a big problem.”