Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Stand on the sideline of any football game, and after any random good play by the offense, you’re likely to hear a defensive coach yelling at his charges to “Read your keys.”
That’s a reminder to the defensive players to look at a set of predetermined indicators, both before and after the snap, that will give them a clue on what type of play is coming.
Defensive players are at a disadvantage on every play, because every offensive player knows where they are going, but defensive players can neutralize that by “reading their keys” to figure out where the play is going.
Fernley High School football coach Chris Ward credited the Vaqueros successful reading of their keys as the biggest factor in their 30-0 win over Elko last Friday.
The Vaqueros work weekly on what they call their EDs, or everyday drills. That includes looking at the offensive lineman for any clues to whether the play might be a run or a pass, or which direction it might go. Those keys might be something as obvious as whether an offensive lineman looks at the person he is supposed to block, or whether his stance gives away which direction he might be going. A lineman might be leaning backward if he is going to be pass protecting, or forward if he is going to run block. He might have one foot slightly in from of another, or a shoulder angled slightly.
Linebackers and defensive backs can also pick up similar cues from running backs or receivers, and the Vaqueros work every week on checking those things when the offense comes to the line of scrimmage.
“We have a set rule of keys that we practice every week and we drill on how we react to certain keys,” Ward said. “It tells them how to react. It’s an initial key, and then after we get our initial key we get our head up and try to find the football and get there.”
The Vaqueros were so successful Friday, they held Elko to 79 yards of total offense and just six first downs. Until their final possession of the game, the Indians ran only five plays inside Fernley territory, and one of those resulted in a fumble and another was a punt.
Offensively, the Vaqueros put together long touchdown drives on their first two possessions of the game. The first covered 68 yards in eight plays, capped by an 18-yard touchdown run by Brandon Reyes. The second was a nine-play, 46-yard march that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run by Miles Steele with 1:02 left in the first quarter.
Fernley’s first possession in t he second quarter ate up more than six minutes and culminated in a 24-yard field goal by Jack Knodell for a 17-0 lead with 5:28 left in the half.
The Vaqueros’ defense, meanwhile was suffocating.
Elko gained 26 yards and reached the Fernley 44-yard line before fumbling on its first drive then lost 12 and punted on their second possession. Trailing 17-0 the Indians acknowledged how difficult gaining ground on the Fernley defense was by punting on fourth-and inches from their own 30-yard line.
The Vaqueros ate up most of the rest of the first half clock, but came up empty on the scoreboard when Knodell’s 40-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Elko’s first three possessions of the second half netted just 4, 0 and 4 yards, while the Vaqueros put the game away on a 23-yard touchdown run by Anthony Thompson, in which he somehow kept his balanced after being tripped up, and a 1-yard run by Steele with 3:27 left in the game.
Thompson, who a 97-yard touchdown nullified by a penalty the week before against South Tahoe, also had a 47-yard score brought back by a holding penalty.
But while they dominated time of possession, the Vaqueros otherwise had trouble generating big plays against Elko’s unconventional defensive front, which often had just two down linemen.
“That was interesting and it creates confusion, but if they would have lined up in something, that score would have been a lot worse,” Ward said.
The win moved the Vaqueros into fourth place with a 3-2 league record heading into Friday’s game at Sparks, but most importantly, it threw the race for the No. 2 playoff seed wide open. Lowry currently stands second at 4-1, with Elko third at 3-1. With three teams with two league losses, and with both Lowry and Elko yet to play Fallon, and each other, it creates a five-team race for second place, unless either Lowry or Elko knock off Fallon in pursuit of the No. 1 seed.
“It’s going to be an interesting race to the finish line,” Ward said. “I think any of these teams can beat any of these other teams.”