Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
As the JV game lasted beyond the scheduled start time for last Friday’s game at North Valleys and his team stood on the track with nothing to do but wait before their pregame warmups, Fernley coach Chris Ward paced back and forth nervously.
The players’ quiet demeanor and idle time on a chilly night had him struggling to gauge the mood of his team, in a game the Vaqueros needed not just to win, but to play well, to build momentum for the playoffs. On top of that, North Valleys had showed an explosive offense this season
Ward need not have worried.
The Vaqueros scored on all five of their first half possessions and the first time they had the ball in the second half, rolling to an easy 48-8 win that moved them into a tie for fourth place and gave them a chance to host a playoff game if they beat Dayton Friday night.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Ward said. “They’ve scored quite a few points on teams. To be honest, I didn’t know how much we were ready to play. I couldn’t read them, whether they were flat, or focused.”
The Vaqueros are now 5-3 in the Northern 3A and 5-4 overall, tied with Spring Creek for fourth place. They own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Spartans, and could finish in a three-way tie for third place if Spring Creek defeats Elko this week.
The top six teams qualify for the playoffs, with the top two teams earning a bye in the first round. The No. 3 seed will host the No. 6 seed, and No. 4 will host No. 5.
“We want momentum going into the playoffs,” Ward said. “We don’t want to have a struggling game or not a very good game. We want to have a nice crisp game, get everyone in if we can and get that momentum going into the playoffs.”
The Vaqueros not only got everyone into the game at North Valleys, but got the most meaningful, and the most successful, reps of the season for many of their backups, because the starters put the game away early.
Miles Steel scored on a pair of quarterback sneaks to cap Fernley’s first two drives, the second of which covered 78 yards in 14 plays and ate up more than second minutes off the clock, as Fernley grabbed a 14-0 lead with 31.3 seconds left in the first quarter.
Brandon Reyes added 1-yard and 21-yard touchdown runs for a 28-0 lead on Fernley’s next two drives, then Steele ended the half with his third rushing touchdown, form 4 yards, for a 35-0 lead with 1:16 left.
On Fernley’s first possession of the second half, Lonnie Halterman took a short pass from Steele for a 16-yard touchdown to make it 41.-0.
The backups went the rest of the way, and although they gave up one score, they also forced a turnover, leading to a 13-yard touchdown run by Roland Austin.
They deserve it, man,” Ward said. “They’ve been hanging with us all year.”
One of Ward’s frustrations earlier this season was that the Vaqueros weren’t able to get more time for some of their backup players.
“I’ve been there,” he said. “I think my first year of college I played three plays the entire season. You just have to bide your time. We just needed some time to get us clicking.”
Austin made the most of his opportunity, piling up 70 yards on eight carries. Reyes led the Vaqueros with 94 yards on 15 carries and Halterman had 69 yards on his three receptions, as the Vaqueros had 399 yards of total offense.
The starting defense didn’t allow a touchdown, as the Vaqueros continued to play shutdown defense, as they have for much of the last two-thirds of the season.
“(Defensive coordinator Jake) McCullar is really good at watching film and breaking down the best things they do, adjusting things on how we want to attack it,” Ward said. “Quarterbacks have a hard time throwing the ball against us, I think, because of what he does with the secondary.”