Fernley holds off Cheyenne rally to win state semifinal, 35-30
Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
With a little more than three minutes remaining in the first half of last Saturday’s 3A state semifinal game in North Las Vegas, Fernley coaches were thinking about a running clock. Twelve minutes of playing time later, they were just hoping they could hold on.
After running out to a 27-point lead, the Vaqueros held off a comeback by Cheyenne to win 35-30 and advance to the 3A state championship game this Saturday against Fallon at 4:30 p.m. at Carson High School.
The Vaqueros scored five touchdowns in the first 21 minutes of the game, but went scoreless the rest of the way as Cheyenne steadily came back. But, as it had against Truckee in the first playoff game the week before, the Vaqueros’ defense set aside its struggles and came up with two crucial stops in the fourth quarter.
“It was a huge relief,” coach Chris Ward said. “No. 1, to able go down there and play a school bigger than us and not just play with them, but beat them.”
Playing at Cheyenne, the Southern 3A Sunset League champions, the Vaqueros started off hotter than the Las Vegas weather.
Three plays into the game the Vaqueros took a 7-0 lead, when Anthony Thompson took a pitch on a toss play to the left, burst through a hole and outran the defense for an 83-yard touchdown.
In its last appearance in the 3A state semifinals, the Vaqueros had fallen behind early after turning the ball over and wound up losing to Mojave. This time, Ward said, scoring first was the catalyst the Vaqueros needed.
“I think our kids after that knew we can do this,” Ward said.
Cheyenne’s first possession went nowhere, and on fourth down, the snap went over the head of the punter, who had nowhere to go and was pushed out of bounds at his own 20-yard line.
Four plays later, Kyle Jones scored from two yards out on a toss play to the right for a 14-0 lead with 7:42 left in the first quarter.
After Cheyenne’s second three-and-out, the Vaqueros drove 43 yards in six plays, taking a 21-0 lead on a 4-yard touchdown by Brandon Reyes with 3:37 still left in the first quarter.
Cheyenne struck back quickly, when quarterback Devonte Armstrong hit Rayvion Brown on a deep pass, and when the defender fell down, Brown went the rest of the way all alone for a 77-yard touchdown with 1:58 left in the quarter, to make it 21-8.
The Vaqueros went back to their roots on the next drive, running on 10 of the 11 plays, with the outlier being a 29-yard connection between Miles Steele and JR Reyes, and finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown by Brandon Reyes to put the lead back to 27-8 with 10:26 left in the second quarter.
Fernley’s last score came after another bad snap on a punt, along with a penalty for an illegal blindside block on Cheyenne, that again gave Fernley the ball at the Cheyenne 20.
Steele cashed in that drive with a 4-yard option keeper, and with a 35-8 lead with three minutes left in the half, the Vaqueros were thinking about putting the game away early, one touchdown away from triggering the NIAA mercy rule.
“We were thinking about one more score and a running clock, and unfortunately it didn’t work that way,” Ward said.
The Desert Shields cashed in on a pair of fortunate breaks to thwart those hopes.
On the first play of Cheyenne’s next drive, Armstrong fumbled, but Brown scooped up the loose ball and gained 18 yards. Three plays later, the Vaqueros were called for defensive pass interference, those two plays accounting for 50 of the 60 yards as Cheyenne climbed within 35-16 on a pass from Armstrong to Brown 27 seconds before halftime.
With Cheyenne set to receive the second half kickoff, the Vaqueros went from thinking running clock, to finding a way to hold on.
A 50-yard run by Armstrong, after eluding a sack, put Cheyenne I position for Armstrong’s third touchdown pass to Brown, a 13-yarder that cut the lead to 35-22 with 9:11 in the second quarter.
Fernley couldn’t move on its first drive of the second half, and Cheyenne went 61 yards in nine plays on its next drive, and suddenly a blowout game was 35-30, and 2:57 were still left in the third quarter.
“We were really struggling that second half to get anything going offensively,” Ward said, attributing much of the malaise to the temperature in the mid 80s that seemed to sap the energy from the Vaqueros. “It wasn’t our typical selves.”
After two false start penalties doomed Fernley’s attempt to answer, a bad snap on their own punt attempt forced Lonnie Halterman to try to run for a first down, but he gained only nine yards on 4-th and 12, giving Cheyenne the ball at its own 33.
But on second down of Cheyenne’s next drive, the Vaqueros got a good rush and sacked Armstrong, and on the next play, Halterman got inside position on a Cheyenne receiver and intercepted Armstrong at the Fernley 40.
Again, the Vaqueros couldn’t move the ball, and were forced to punt with 9:21 left in the game.
The defense looked to have come up with a stop, but the Vaqueros were called for holding on a Cheyenne punt, giving the Desert Shields the ball back at their own 45.
A 21-yard run by Jason Black got Cheyenne to the Fernley 24 with 5 minutes showing on the clock, but this time the Vaqueros got a break when a receiver couldn’t come up with a catchable throw from Armstrong in the end zone. Instead, on fourth-and-10, Bailey Torres sacked Armstrong.
Three first down runs by Reyes, after the Vaqueros had managed just one to that point in the second half, sealed the game.
“The kids we have, they were in a tough situation, but they gutted up when they needed to and weren’t going to let it slip away,” Ward said.