Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
When they started the season 0-3, and again after a 42-19 loss at Elko three games ago, Fernley coach Chris Ward pointed at inexperience, particularly on the offensive line, as the team’s glaring weakness, and the key to turning the season around.
After blowing a 21-7 lead, then recovering to pull out a late win last Friday night against Spring Creek, the Vaqueros can consider the season turned. Now it’s a question of what heights they can reach.
Fernley traveled 68 yards in six plays and Brandon Reyes scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 5:29 left in the game took claim a 28-21 win, and move above .500 in league play for the first time this season, at 4-3.
Ward was particularly happy with the win because he said it demonstrates the progress the Vaqueros have made since their early season struggles.
“We’re maturing up front, we’re playing better up front, taking a little more pride in being up front,” he said. “It just took a while for us to get going, but we’re starting to get clicking now.”
The biggest of those strides have come in the past two weeks, in wins over Sparks and Spring Creek, since that loss at Elko, where the Vaqueros turned the ball over on their first three possessions and were never in the game. Those two wins have been the Vaqueros’ best two games of the season,
“I think our kids were, I don’t want to say embarrassed, but I think it caught their attention and they figured out they better start playing or it’s going to be a long rest of the season,” he said.
Ward said that maturation evident on the scoreboard is a reflection of what the coaches are seeing from the sideline and on film. Unlike earlier this season, where blocking the blitz was a recurring problem, Ward said players are now understanding things well enough to make adjustments in the middle of the game, when coaches point things out.
“We knew it was going to be tough out of the chute with the first three teams we had, and they’re starting to mature, they’re starting to understand much better, they’re starting to figure it out,” Ward said. “You hear our coaches a lot yelling ‘Do your job,’ but that is really the truth, just do your job and we’ll be fine.”
For the second straight week, the Vaqueros started quickly on offense. After recovering Spring Creek’s attempt to catch them off guard with an onside kick to start the game, the Vaqueros needed just four plays to score, on a 17-yard run by Brandon Reyes, for a 7-0 lead.
They dropped two potential touchdown passes on their second possession, but drove 65 yards for another score, a 3-yard run by Reyes, and a 14-0 lead the third time they had the ball.
Spring Creek drove to the Fernley 10, but came up shot on fourth-and 7, but took the ball right back on an interception by Ryan Thurston at the Fernley 9, leading to a 1-yard touchdown run by Reed Westwood that cut the lead to 14-7.
Fernley went into the two-minute drill to end the half, and again drove 65 yards, scoring in a 35-yard pass from Steele to Lonnie Halterman with 53.1 seconds left in the half.
The Spartans put together one of their only two sustained drives to start the second half, cutting the lead to 21-14 on a 5-yard run by Westwood to cap a 50-yard drive.
After Thurston’s second interception of Steele, Westwood broke free for a 38-yard touchdown to tie the game at 21 with 11:47 left in the game.
“I think we lost our focus a little bit right there and they were able to jump on it, but the kids drove it down, it looked like pretty easily, and punched it in,” Ward said. “I’m glad we won, but it shouldn’t have come down to as close as it did, I don’t think.”
Steele, whose first start at quarterback was that game at Elko, had his best game running the attack, completing 7 of 13 passes for 92 yards, and ran nine times for 73 yards.
“I think Miles did a pretty good job reading his stuff,” Ward said. “He’s getting more comfortable in the quarterback position now, after a rough start at Elko.”
Reyes, a sophomore who has become the team’s leading rusher, carried 21 times for 110 yards and the two scores.
The win kept the Vaqueros in a fifth-place tie with Lowry at 4-3, but the Vaqueros could end up as the fourth playoff seed, and earn a first-round home game, if they win both of their last two games, and Spring Creek loses at least one of its last two games against Truckee and Elko.
The Vaqueros finish the season with games against North Valleys this Friday and Dayton next week.
North Valleys is 2-5 in its first season in the Northern 3A. The Panthers operate out of a run-heavy spread offense, with a lot of zone read and quarterback counter concepts.
Quarterback Kyle Claiborne, a 6-4, 185-pound senior, has completed 51 of 130 passes for 798 yards, with six touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also run 54 times for 463 yards, while running back Garrett Pennington, a 5-5, 185-pound senior, has run for 724 yards on 146 carries. The team’s leading receiver is senior Tyler Jones, who has 25 catches of r 375 yards, while Julien Weaver has caught 20 balls for 318 yards.