Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Coming off back-to-back losses to open league play, the Fernley Vaqueros welcome South Tahoe to town Friday night as they celebrate Homecoming and search for their first league win.
Both will bring identical records of 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Northern 3A into tonight’s game. South Tahoe is coming off consecutive 48-0 losses, to Fallon and Elko, while Fernley has opened league play with losses to Elko, 42-21 and Truckee, 19-10.
In both games the Vaqueros did plenty of things right, but a litany of mistakes in both games turned out to be the difference. Against Elko it was turnovers, while in Truckee, the Vaqueros didn’t turn the ball over once, but it was penalties, particularly 11 flags for false starts, that ultimately cost them the game.
“This was the first time in my 27 years of playing football and being around football that I’ve ever seen this many false start penalties,” coach Anfernee Sloan said. “There’s so many times we have drives going, and then the penalties.”
Despite that, the Vaqueros were within 12-10 deep into the fourth quarter and had four possessions with a chance to take the lead, before Truckee finally extended the margin with a 24-yard touchdown run by Joe Birnbaum on fourth-and-2 to put the game away.
“Another classic Truckee-Fernley football game that I would run back a hundred times again,” Sloan said. “I’m very happy, because we just went toe-to-toe with a very good football team that I think is also very beatable.”
The Vaqueros’ defense kept them in the game time and time again.
With Truckee leading 12-7, the Wolverines got the ball with less than a minute left at the Fernley 15-yard line after a shanked punt. With Truckee receiving the second half kickoff, the Wolverines had a chance to score to end the half, then again to open the second half and blow the game open. Instead, Andrew Yokoi intercepted a pass in the end zone on the last play of the half. Then, on Truckee’s opening possession of the third quarter, Garrett Harjo forced a fumble that Ulises Hernandez recovered, which led to a 27-yard field goal by Noah Spencer to cut the lead to 12-10.
“A big play keeps us in it, then we come out and they turn the ball over,” Sloan said. “I don’t think people understand what they did to earn those 10 points.”
The Vaqueros had scored first, with their best drive of the season. They got the ball for their second possession of the game at their own 10-yard line, but a false start penalty and a 1-yard loss on first-and-15 moved the ball back to the Fernley 4. But then the Vaqueros marched all the way down the field to open the scoring on a 32-yard run by quarterback Bryce Stephens.
Stephens led the Vaqueros with 69 yards rushing on 19 carries, and it was his 13-yard run on second-and-16 from the 4 that kickstarted the drive.
“This was the first time this season, to be honest with you, the offense was playing good football,” Sloan said.
In the end though, the Vaqueros had too many drives thwarted by penalties.
“Again, we’re still our own worst enemies and at times it rears its ugly head,” Sloan said. “But there has been some big leaps, and I don’t think people are seeing it, since week 1 or 2. It’s night and day compared to where we were when we first played Bishop to now.”
Sloan said the Vaqueros are playing good football in between their mistakes, but those mistakes are keeping the good football from showing up on the scoreboard.
“With what we do, some things take time, but again we’ve got a good football team,” he said. “We’re fighting other things that kind of cut us down at the knees sometimes. This is going to be a good film to break down and watch because I think it has a lot of good learning moments that we can kind of take away from it.”
So, with South Tahoe coming in Friday, Sloan said it’s back to the drawing board for the Vaqueros.
“I think we’ve got a good opponent coming in, in South Tahoe, and the expectation is that we’re going to go and win the football game,” he said. “I think (this) week will be good for us because we’ve played a lot of physical football the last three weeks.”