“I think they’re the best boys basketball team that’s ever played at Fernley High School.’

Vaqueros lose heartbreaker in state semifinal for third straight year

Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter

A single thought occurred to Fernley boys basketball coach Cade Knutson when his team took the floor with possession of the ball and about 45 seconds left in their 63-60 state semifinal loss to Democracy Prep.

Fernley trailed by three after having trailed by as much as 14 in the third quarter and, more recently, by 12 in the fourth before going on a 15-3 run to tie the game at 58 with 2:44 remaining. Democracy Prep’s Jamarion Taylor converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 2:18 remaining, and the Blue Knights held a 61-58 lead as the teams came out of their huddles for Fernley’s possession with 45 seconds left.

“I’m sitting there thinking that we’re kind of owed one from last year’s heartbreak of a kid banking a three at the top of the key,” Knutson said.


Instead, the Vaqueros still hold an uncollected debt.

The play Knutson drew up was a counter to a play the Vaqueros have run successfully all season, and he was confident it would generate a good shot. It did, but the shot didn’t go. The Vaqueros got an offensive rebound, but missed again. They got a second offensive rebound, then a third, but none of their four shots found the bottom of the net.

“Every offensive rebound we got, just the butterflies started creeping in and I said, man, we’re due,” Knutson said. “We weren’t able to do it, unfortunately.”

Democracy Prep’s Josiah Stroughter rebounded the final miss and was fouled. He made one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 30.6 seconds left. Garrett Harjo scored on a putback with six seconds left, but Rickey Burrell made one of two free throws with 3 tenths of a second left for the final 63-60 margin.

It was the second straight year the Vaqueros lost by a single possession to the team that won the state championship the next night.

“It’s heartbreaking obviously,” Knutson said. “It doesn’t take away from the season that we had in any way. Obviously, I would have liked to have gone and finished it. We told our guys how proud we were of them after the game, for their resilience.”

The Vaqueros led for just 1 minute, 43 seconds of game time, going up 8-6 on a 3-pointer by Bryce Dunagan-Stephens with 4:10 left in the first quarter, and 10-7 after a putback by Nate Adams with 3:27 left in the quarter. But after Stroughter scored on consecutive fast breaks to put the Blue Knights up 11-10 with 2:27 left in the first quarter, the Vaqueros were swimming against the current the rest of the way.

They stayed within hailing distance the rest of the first half, and their 28-22 deficit was tied for the largest lead of the first half by Democracy Prep.

“I thought we made some uncharacteristic turnovers in the first half that kind of led to us getting off to a slower start than we wanted to,” Knutson said. “We went into halftime feeling like we didn’t play well at all and we were only down six, so it was honestly kind of a positive vibe in the locker room.”

Fernley was within 31-28 when Harjo scored with 5:44 left in the third quarter, but Democracy Prep outscored the Vaqueros 16-5 over the next 3:53 to go up 47-33 with 1:51 left in the third.

The Vaqueros closed the quarter with a flourish, getting back within 47-40 to open the fourth, but barely a minute and a half later, it was 55-43.

That’s when Knutson threw caution to the wind, and decided to press the Blue Knights full court. The Vaqueros have thrived all season long with pressure defense, but had decided not to press the Blue Knights because of their speed in the open floor.

“The adjustment we made was going to a zone press, and we created turnovers obviously, and started making shots, started kind of playing the pace that we’re used to,” Knutson said. “Fullcourt man has been our bread and butter all year, and 99 percent of the games we’ve played, we’re the quicker, more athletic team and the faster team. This was maybe the first time all year that wasn’t the case, and we knew that going in.”

Harjo scored two straight buckets, and Stephens sandwiched a free throw and a 3-pointer around Johnnie Williams’ fadeway jumper, and suddenly the Vaqueros were within 56-53 with 3:19 left. After a Democracy basket, Williams hit a three and Anthony Winters converted a fast-break layup to tie the game at 58.

“To make a run like that and erase a 12-point deficit in a State game just speaks to the caliber of player and the mental toughness that our guys showed all year to win 26 games,” Knutson said. “Down 12 we could have folded right there, and to come back and tie it against a really, really good team is incredible.”

Although it was the third straight year of heartbreak for the Vaqueros in the state semifinals, Knutson said this one is different in the way the Vaqueros got there and what they achieved along the way.

“Where it’s different this season that last year is we’re coming away with hardware this year,” Knutson said. “We won the region championship for the first time since 1996, so we told them as sour as it feels, you guys are champions, you guys have done something that hasn’t been done in a really long time. I think they’re the best boys basketball team that’s ever played at Fernley High School.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *