Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Playoff seeds are on the line for six of the eight Northern 3A teams this week, including Fernley.
The Vaqueros can clinch the fifth seed with a win over Sparks Friday night, in which case they would play on the road next Thursday at whichever team winds up as the fourth seed. Based on the outcomes of the games this week, that could be either Fallon, Elko or Spring Creek, with varying degrees of likelihood.
The Vaqueros are guaranteed to be in the playoffs if they beat Sparks, but their first-round opponent would be dictated by the outcome of Spring Creek at Elko and Lowry at Fallon. If Sparks beats Fernley, then the outcome of the Lowry-Fallon game could have a hand in determining whether the Vaqueros make the playoffs.
No matter what happens between Lowry and Fallon, Fernley would be the fifth seed seed with a win over Sparks. But a Lowry loss to Fallon coupled with a Sparks win over Fernley by two or more points would hand Lowry the 5th seed and Sparks the sixth. A Lowry loss to Fallon and a one-point Sparks win over Fernley would make Fernley the fifth seed and Lowry the sixth, and leave Sparks out of the postseason.
If Lowry beats Fallon this week, then a Sparks win by any margin would also put Lowry in as the 5th seed and Sparks as the sixth.
Fernley can render all of that moot by beating Sparks, in which case then they’d be checking the scoreboard to see where they’re headed next week. Truckee is the only team in the league with any playoff certainty. The Wolverines have clinched the first seed and have a first-round bye and will play at home in every round until they either make it to the state championship game or are eliminated.
Elko can clinch the No. 2 seed with a win over Spring Creek, but could also finish third or fourth with a loss, depending on the outcome of Lowry-Fallon. Fallon can clinch the second seed with a win over Lowry and a Spring Creek win over Elko. In that scenario, Spring Creek would be the No. 3 seed and Elko would fall to fourth. Elko could also finish as the third seed with a loss to Spring Creek if Lowry beats Fallon.
An Elko win over Spring Creek would leave Spring Creek as the No. 4 seed regardless of what happens between Lowry and Fallon. Fallon would fall to fourth with a loss to Lowry, if Spring Creek beats Elko.
Only South Tahoe enters the final game of the season with no chance to make the playoffs.
While many of those scenarios are unlikely, they Vaqueros could have avoided this week’s drama with a win over Spring Creek last Friday, but came up just a few inches short in a 21-17 loss.
Trailing by that margin, the Vaqueros got the ball with about five minutes left at their own 44 yard line. Thirteen plays later, they faced fourth-and-10 at the Spring Creek 13. Johnnie Williams took a toss from quarterback Bryce Stephens heading around the right end, but instead of a sweep, Williams stopped and lofted a halfback option pass toward the end zone. Fullback Keeshawn Love flowed out of the backfield and was open in the end zone, but the pass was just out of his reach.
“I don’t think it gets much closer than that,” coach Anfernee Sloan said. “Game of inches.”
With five minutes to work with starting their final drive, the Vaqueros didn’t need to rush, but after gaining one first down, they faced a fourth-and-6 from the Spring Creek 46. Stephens had to scramble away from the Spring Creek pass rush, but he found Ulises Hernandez open on an improvised 16-yard pass to the Spartans’ 16 with 2:26 to go. Three straight runs by Love gave them another first down at the Spartans 13.
On first down, Sloan had Stephens spike the ball to stop the clock with 1:14 left.
“I spiked it because of the fact that we had one timeout,” Sloan said. “That right there is a high-pressure moment. Let’s calm down and get them focused because their brains are moving a million miles an hour like a hamster on a wheel.”
Two incompletions left the Vaqueros facing the deciding fourth down, and Sloan turned to a play he’d been waiting to run in just that kind of moment.
“Not in that particular moment, but more when we get inside the 20, because everyone is going to start flowing one way and forget the ‘B’ back and leak out toward the sideline.”
The Vaqueros found themselves needing last minute heroics because of a disastrous last half of the second quarter.
A 5-yard touchdown run by Love with 7:54 left in the quarter put Fernley up 14-7, but Jon Crawford-Wadley returned the kickoff for a touchdown, and a two-point conversion put the Spartans ahead 15-14.
“That kick return was the key play of the game because you take it away, guess what, you win 17-15,” Sloan said.
Then on Fernley’s next possession, a holding penalty wiped out a touchdown run by Garrett Harjo and the Vaqueros ended up missing a field goal.
Spring Creek then drove 80 yards in eight plays to score on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Santos to Crawford-Wadley with 28 seconds left in the half to go to the locker room with a 21-14 advantage.
The Vaqueros had earlier seen an 82-yard run by Stephens to the Spring Creek 1-yard line nullified by a holding penalty.
Sloan agreed with the holding call on Stephens’ run, but he argued the call on the Harjo run, to no avail.
The Vaqueros were led offensively by Love, who carried the ball 30 times for 279 yards. The Spartans tried multiple adjustments and were never able to slow down the dive portion of Fernley’s triple-option. The opened the game in a three-man front and switched in the first half to a four-man front, and eventually went to a five-man front, with linebackers crowding the line of scrimmage.
“They didn’t have an answer for us in the second half,” Sloan said.
The loss leaves the Vaqueros in the position of needing to beat Sparks to get into the playoffs, but also confident they will do so.
“I’m not overlooking Sparks by any means because there’s a reason you play the game, but at the same time, I got to start getting some guys ready for the playoffs,” Sloan said.
Sloan said the most likely scenario is the Vaqueros will be going to Spring Creek for a rematch on Oct. 26, and he said part of the preparation for this week and next, assuming they beat Sparks, will be working on situations such as the two-minute drill.
“We’re at a point now where there’s really not much you can put in anymore,” he said. “I think its just us trying to teach them hey, this is the situation, you guys need to go execute and win this situation.”