Open league play at Elko tonight
Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
A week after they had to make a defensive stand to hold off a comeback attempt by Wooster to seal their first win, the Fernley Vaqueros will hit the road Friday night hoping to start off league play on the right foot.
The Vaqueros beat Wooster 23-20 last Friday night, after seeing Wooster erase most of a 23-0 lead. That evened Fernley’s record at 1-1 and avenged the loss that ultimately was the reason they missed the playoffs last season.
While this year’s win over Wooster has no postseason ramifications this season, because Wooster has moved up to the 5A Division III, it nevertheless carried great importance for coach Anfernee Sloan.
“That was a big-time game for us, because this is a big-time month for us,” Sloan said. “That right there was really good for us, because it’s going to give us momentum and slingshot us into next week.”
The Vaqueros face the gauntlet of road trips to Elko, Truckee and Fallon this month, with a game at home against South Tahoe in between. Even though the Vaqueros return most of their starters from last season, the players they lost happened to man some of the most important on the field, especially quarterback, the offensive line and middle linebacker. And because many of the returning starters were only freshmen and sophomores last year, they’re still an extremely young team, even accounting for their varsity experience.
Sloan has repeatedly talked about the team’s potential, pointing out after the team’s late season surge last year, and again after a 7-0 loss to Bishop (Calif.) on August 18, that he believes the team is on the verge of starting to realize that potential.
“I keep telling everybody we’re real close,” he said. “I think once that offensive side of the ball figures it out, those guys are the real deal.”
For three drives in a span of about 12 minutes Friday night, the Vaqueros’ offense looked like a team that had all the answers to the test.
“That first couple of series were we kind of feeling out to see if we were spot on with what we were teaching the guys all week, and that third drive we kind of got a little momentum, then we got hit with a penalty,” Sloan said. “They kind of figured it out and then the second quarter it was like they were shot out of a cannon.”
After punting on their first three drives of the game, the Vaqueros took over for their fourth drive on their own 42-yard line. Twice they converted on third down, and on the 13th play of the drive, Garrett Harjo took a pitch around the left side for a touchdown.
The Vaqueros got a safety when a bad snap went over the Wooster punter’s head and hit the goal post. After the ensuing kickoff, the Vaqueros drove 78 yards in eight plays, capped off when Keeshawn Love exploded through the middle for a 37-yard touchdown run to make it 16-0 with 2:10 left in the first half.
Fernley got a stop on Wooster’s opening drive, then partially blocked a punt that set the Vaqueros up with great field position at their own 45. Two plays later, Love again found a hole in the middle and outran everyone for a 47-yard touchdown and a 23-0 lead.
But just as quickly as Fernley’s offense had come alive, Wooster’s did too.
First the Colts went 70 yards in 11 plays, aided greatly by two pass interference penalties and one offside flag against the Vaqueros. Then the Vaqueros had their own bad snap on a punt that gave Wooster the ball at the Fernley 9, where Ethan Yeh ran it in on the next play, and suddenly it was 23-13.
Fernley reached the Wooster 31 on its next drive before stalling, and armed with all the momentum, the Colts needed only seven plays to go 94 yards to climb within 23-20 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Carlos Lopez to Cesar Benavides with 4:14 left in the game.
Needing two first downs to season the game, the Vaqueros got just one, and punted the ball away with 1:30 left in the game, but Love and Harjo combined on a key sack, and the Vaqueros forced incompletions on third and fourth down to hang on for the win.
“That was a tale of two cities right there, especially that second half, as far as penalties go,” Sloan said. “At the same time those guys continued to play football, defense bowed their back at the end and guys got the job done. Sometimes you’ve got to win ugly.
“Last year we get in that situation and that team probably scores, and now we gotta try and figure out how we’re going to score in about a minute and a half,” Sloan added.