Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
The outcome was already decided and the tears were flowing on the sideline when the Fernley Vaqueros took possession of the ball for the last time of the season with about 4 minutes left in their 3A state semifinal game against Mojave Saturday afternoon.
Mojave had just taken a 42-7 lead on a 99-yard interception return, and as the Vaqueros took the field on offense, assistant coach Cody Wagner reminded quarterback Zach Burns that the Vaqueros needed to hurry because the 35-point lead triggered a running clock under the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association’s mercy rule.
“I think they wanted that one themselves, more than anything,” coach Chris Ward said. “They’ve got a lot of pride. I think they wanted to show it.”
The Vaqueros were the victims of an early reversal of fortune, and Noah Thompson scored on a pair of twin 44-yard touchdown runs, the second one killing any thoughts of a Fernley comeback, as Mojave handed the Vaqueros a 42-13 defeat.
Mojave running back Tawee Walker fumbled on the third play of the game, setting Fernley up at the Mojave 39-yard line. But after Fernley drove to the Mojave 19, Mojave’s Dequincy Mitchell intercepted a pass by Burns and returned the ball to the 50-yard line. Walker cashed in the eight-play drive, diving over the pile from two yards out for an 8-0 lead.
“We needed to take advantage of things like that and we didn’t,” Burns said. “That was my fault, I had a bad read and threw a pick.”
After the big momentum swing, the Rattlers took control of the game on their next two drives.
Mojave scored on another 8-play drive, going up 14-0 on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Xavier DeLong to John Harper on the first play of the second quarter.
Mojave forced another turnover on Fernley’s next possession, when Burns was blasted by a Mojave defensive lineman and fumbled. Six players later, Thompson’s first touchdown run made it 22-0.
After a three-and out by Fernley, followed by an unsuccessful fake punt, the Rattlers took full command of the proceedings, on a 14-yard touchdown run by Quincy Smith that made it 28-0.
Fernley struck right back with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Burns to Cameron Bertok to get within 28-7 and bring the Fernley sideline back to life, but Thompson made sure there would be no comeback when he broke free a second time to make it 34-7.
Moments later, Harper picked off a pass and took it 99 yards for that 42-7 lead.
That’s when the Vaqueros decided that, even if they weren’t going to win the game, they could at least go out with one last hurrah.
“That’s what we were thinking, let’s make something of our last drive,” Burns said.
Fernley took the ball at its own 33-yard line. A.J. Kuha ran for 10 yards on the first play, Burns ran for eight, and Aaron Proctor got a first down to the Mojave 37 with a 12-yard run. Proctor then ran for 20 more to the 17, Burns gained three on a keeper, then scored on another keeper from 14 yards out with 46.3 seconds left in the game.
“That’s the kind of season we had and that’s how we wanted to be remembered,” Burns said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t accomplish the big goal that we were trying to get, but we accomplished a lot of things this season, so there’s lot to be proud about.”
With their final drive, the Vaqueros showed why they, and this season, won’t be forgotten.
“I didn’t want this one to end,” Ward said. “They’re a good group.”
MOJAVE 42, FERNLEY 18 M 8 14 6 14 – 42 F 0 0 7 6 – 13 First Quarter M: Walker 2 run (Smith run) 5:07 Second quarter M: Harper 18 pass from Delong (pass failed) 11:55 M: Thompson 44 run (Harper pass from Delong) 6:57 Third quarter M: Q. Smith 14 run (run failed) 7:30 F: Bertok 52 pass from Burns (Knodell kick) 5:23 Fourth quarter M: Thompson 44 run (pass failed) 8:10 M: Harper 99 interception return (Smith run) 4:32 F: Burns 14 run (kick failed) :46 Rushing Mojave: Walker 16-69, Delong 9-76, Q. Smith 2-20, Miller 1-14, Thompson 4-96, Demetrius Smith 2-6, Deshaun Smith 1-1 Fernley: Burns 13-21, Gleason 10-26, Kuha 2-12, Proctor 9-48, Lemon 3-8, Halterman 1-4 Passing Mojave: Thompson 2-2-0-0 20 yards, Delong 3-8-0-1, 28 yards, Alvarez 0-1-0-0 Fernley: Burns 12-24-2-1, 155 yards Receiving Mojave: Harper 2-20, Harper 1-18, Thompson 1-6, Williams 1-4 Fernley: Proctor 5-52, Terra 1-3, Lemon 3-28, Bertok 2-62, Kuha 1-10