Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
A football team that goes an entire game without punting usually ends the night with a celebration.
But for the second straight week, the Fernley Vaqueros saw their hopes for a big win against a good team fumbled away.
The Vaqueros turned the ball over five times in suffering a 34-19 loss to Elko on Homecoming last Friday, in yet another game they might have been able to win, if not for the turnovers.
Even so, coach Anfernee Sloan said the game showed yet again what the Vaqueros are capable of now, and what they’re capable of becoming,
“Again, that’s something that they’re going to learn from,” he said. “As bad as it sounds, I am happy.”
The loss put a serious damper on Fernley’s playoff hopes. At 0-2 within the East League of the Northern 3A, they would need to win their next two games, against Lowry and Fallon to have any chance, depending on the outcome of other games within the league. Playoff teams will be determined by a point total, with points assigned for each win determined by where the opponent finishes in the standings.
But as it has after other losses this season, Sloan’s optimism comes from how the Vaqueros continued to fight after their turnovers put them in a hole, and, perhaps more meaningfully long term, in how well some new offensive wrinkles worked out.
One of those offensive wrinkles was a draw play the Vaqueros have added to run off their sprint out pass package. The first time they ran the play resulted in a fumbled exchange on the handoff that turned the game around, but the potential effectiveness of the play was clean, judging by the hole the running back would have been able to run through had the handoff been made cleanly.
The Vaqueros also frequently used a new stack formation, with two receivers on each side, but stacked one behind the other, rather than one wide and one in the slot as in their base flexbone formation. They then ran a run-pass option out of that formation.
“It makes this offense really unique at that point in time,” Sloan said. “We got something brewing that I think a lot of people are going to be a little bit shocked about.”
But like the lessons the Vaqueros may be learning through their struggles this season, the benefits of those offensive changes are yet to be seen.
Friday, the Vaqueros got the ball for eight offensive possessions against Elko, resulting in four fumbles, three touchdowns and an interception. The Vaqueros were denied a possible ninth possession when Elko recovered an onside kick after scoring to go up 20-7.
That score came immediately after the fumbled handoff on the draw play, which came on fourth-and-6 at the Elko 19. Elko drove 79 yards to go up 20-7, then recovered an onside kick and drove 51 yards for another score and a 28-7 lead. After having the ball with a chance to take the lead, the next time Fernley took possession, they trailed by three scores.
“We’re just missing out on too many opportunities, and that’s just the moral of the story,” Sloan said.
Elko opened the game with an 82-yard drive in nine plays to take a 6-0 lead, but Fernley answered right back with their own touchdown drive of 59 yards in six plays, including runs of 16, 18 and 18 yards, to go ahead 7-6.
“To be able to kind of come back out that next series and just respond and go up 7-6 like that, in the blink of an eye, it tells me that we’re right there,” Sloan said. “That says a lot about a very young football team. That’s what I keep saying, the future’s bright, because they got after a team that’s definitely much older than them, definitely much better on paper.”
The next chance for the Vaqueros comes Friday, when they host Lowry. They lost 34-13 in the first game of the season at Lowry, in a game where turnovers in the first half left them in a 31-0 deficit.
“I guarantee you Lowry is going to see a much different, much improved, much more focused, driven football team that’s definitely out to get some sweet revenge,” Sloan said.