Turnovers, penalties haunt Vaqueros in loss at Elko
By Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
It only took six plays last Friday night in Elko for the game to get away from the script that Fernley coach Anfernee Sloan envisioned going into it. By the time it was over, Sloan could only anticipate looking at the footage to figure out how to get things back on track.
Fernley turned the ball over four times and was hit with a slew of penalties in what wound up as a 42-21 loss at Elko.
“I’m going watch this film two, three, four, five, maybe six times, because there’s a lot of questions that I have about a lot of things that probably kind of unfolded, especially in that first half,” Sloan said.
Each of Fernley’s turnovers led to Elko touchdowns, including a fumble right in front of Fernley’s own goal line on the sixth play of the game. Cael Sellers picked up the loose ball and stepped into the end zone, putting the Vaqueros in an immediate 7-0 deficit.
The lead grew to 22-0 before Fernley got on the board on a Garrett Harjo touchdown run, after Harjo had forced an Elko turnover by intercepting a pass from Elko’s Ethan Kraintz.
Fernley received the second half kickoff with a chance to get back into the game, but another fumble turned into a touchdown run by Elko’s Eli Finlayson.
Fernley’s Diego Mendez returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to get the Vaqueros back within 29-14, but Elko needed just six plays to go 58 yards to score again and push the lead to 35-14.
A 7-yard touchdown run by Riley McCullar got Fernley again back within two scores at 35-21, and then the Vaqueros recovered an onside kick. Keeshawn Love followed with a 33-yard run, but the drive stalled and Fernley missed a 24-yard field goal attempt.
Elko punched in a final touchdown with 8 seconds left in the game after an interception.
While Sloan said he planned to take all night if necessary to figure out what went wrong in the first half, he said what went right was that the team continued to play hard and battle in the second half.
“The second half was night and day difference compared to the first half. That’s the game that I envisioned in my brain leading into this,” he said. “I think once we kind of look at it and see what it is that we need to be a little bit better at, I’ll have a little bit more of a solidified answer.”
Sloan said two of the fumbles were caused because quarterback Bryce Stephens was hit before he could even make a handoff.
“A lot of it comes up front. There’s too much leakage,” Sloan said. “He’s getting hit as he’s trying to hand off the football. That’s stuff that we have to get fixed.”
As if trying to figure out everything that went wrong in Elko wasn’t difficult enough, Sloan and the Vaqueros have to try to fix it while preparing to face Truckee, the defending 3A state champions. It’s the Vaqueros’ first visit to Truckee since they beat the Wolverines 35-34 in a playoff game in 2021.
“You know they got something waiting for us because they’ve probably had this one circled for a long time,” Sloan said. “I know we’re walking into the teeth for sure, which is how I’m going to treat all week.”