Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
With their playoff fate being determined in a game being played 30 miles away and their own game having no bearing, the Fernley Vaqueros could have been forgiven if they’d been preoccupied and unfocused last Friday night against Carson.
Instead, the Vaqueros put together their most dominant effort of the season, and although they didn’t get the outcome they needed to get into the playoffs, they can take solace that they ended their season in style.
The Vaqueros scored the first four times they had the ball and cruised to a 41-14 win over Carson, in a game that was scheduled to replace the game against Dayton, which was canceled after Dayton dropped its varsity team earlier in the season.
“I was excited the way this young team again kind of came out here and showed what they’re truly capable of doing,” coach Anfernee Sloan said. “That right there, if they play like that all year, I guarantee we’re probably up there in the mix, maybe had one or two losses.”
Instead, the Vaqueros were eliminated from playoff contention when Hug beat Wooster 23-14, which qualified Hug for the playoffs as the fifth seed, dropping Wooster to the sixth seed and knocking the Vaqueros out.
Although they feel like their improvement in the second half of the season would have made them a dangerous foe against anyone in the playoffs, the Vaqueros instead head into their offseason intent on starting next year the way they finished this one
“I’m very enthusiastic about what we’ve got going on, about what we can do moving forward,” Sloan said, adding that the key to taking the next step is putting in the work in the weight room. “We get a little bit more size, I think just the experience of this season is going to be huge going into next season.”
The Vaqueros had several sophomores and a couple of freshmen on the roster all season, and brought up a couple more underclassmen from the JV team for the final couple of games.
“With us being so young, we got a lot of young guys who played a lot of football snaps for us this year,” Sloan said.
Quarterback Gabe Tollestrup, one of the team’s few seniors, ran for three touchdowns against Carson, while freshman Keeshawn Love ran for two. Love’s two scores staked the Vaqueros to a 14-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, and two scores by Tollestrup had it at 27-0 with 8:53 left in the second quarter. Tollestrup’s third touchdown made it 34-7, and junior Maverick Greenough capped the scoring with his first career varsity touchdown.
Tollestrup finished the season with 18 rushing touchdowns and eight more passing, and more than 2,000 yards of total offense.
“I’m going to have to figure out how to replace a kid that scored almost 30 touchdowns this year at quarterback,” Sloan said.
With a new line in front of him and a whole new cast of runners and receivers, Tollestrup’s leadership and command of the offense was one of the keys to the team’s improvement as the season went on. Sloan said he and Tollestrup watch film together and talk about what the defense is doing and what adjustments he needs to make at the line of scrimmage against certain defensive looks.
Tollestrup often came to the line of scrimmage and changed the play call himself, but his mastery of the offense is all the more impressive given that this was his first season as starting varsity quarterback. He missed seven weeks of last season with a broken hand, and then played slotback when he returned, while Julian McIntyre became an all-league quarterback.
“We run a very complex offense, it’s not simple,” Sloan said. “For an 18-year old kid to be able to navigate that stuff in his head, that’s what I do. I’m sitting here thinking about all that stuff, and he’s showing the ability to be able to demonstrate that.”
While talking enthusiastically about the team’s potential next season and beyond, Sloan’s eyes began to water when he was asked after the game what he could say to and about the seniors whose careers ended Friday night.
“Super proud of them. I always tell them that they’ve laid a foundation,” he said. “You lay that foundation, beautiful things are going to come out of it. We’re going to build and build and build, and those guys, I don’t think they realize what they just did. They’ve grown a lot as men.”