Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
With the proliferation of spread offenses in modern football, most high school teams that run option-based offenses do it in the form of the zone read, or, the newest fad, run-pass options, known as RPOs. Most of those plays give the quarterback two options on any given snap.
Fernley’s flexbone offense hearkens back to the days when the triple option dominated high school and college football, but in its modern form, pioneered by a coaching three that had its roots at the University of Hawaii under Dick Tomey in the 1980s and spread to several other colleges, most notably Georgia Southern, the service academies and finally Georgia Tech, under one of its innovators, Paul Johnson.
Faced with three decisions to make in a matter of a couple of seconds after receiving the snap, the offense asks a lot of its quarterback, and it requires precise timing by its backs and receivers and proper blocking technique by the linemen.
Its complexity comes from its simplicity and its success requires synchronicity, and something as simple as one wrong step or one shoulder turned to the wrong angle can disrupt the entire play.
So when coach Chris Ward is asked the usual question coaches often face – How did you guys do this week? – his answer rarely has anything to do with the numbers on the scoreboard, no matter whether the bigger number is on his side or the other.
So it was with last Friday’s season opening win, a 24-0 shutout of Bishop (Calif.) Union.
“When we did our assignments correctly, we looked pretty good,” Ward said. “When we didn’t do them as well, we didn’t look real good.”
Most encouraging to Ward was how successful the Vaqueros were at getting to the third read of the option, the pitch, which in most cases is to a slotback coming in motion from the back side of the play.
“I don’t know how many high school option teams ever get to all three phases very often, but we do,” Ward said.
The Vaqueros not only got to all three phases against Bishop, but they had success in all three at various times in the game. The team’s first touchdown of the game, an 84-yard run by Kyle Jones, came on an outside toss play which Jones took down the sideline.
They also got 54 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown from their primary inside runner, fullback Brandon Reyes, normally the first option in their sequence, and 87 yards on 12 carries and a score from quarterback Miles Steele.
In all, the combination of inside runs, quarterback keeps and outside pitches added up to 317 yards on 40 carries, an average of 7.9 yards per play, with three touchdowns.
And those numbers might have been even better had the Vaqueros not turned the ball over twice deep in Bishop territory, and had a fourth-down conversion attempt come up short.
“I think we left three or four touchdowns on the field that we could have had, but that’s first game stuff,” Ward said.
In all, the Vaqueros had nine different players carry the ball, and while the Vaqueros didn’t need to rely on the passing game, they got 61 yards passing from Steele, who completed three of seven attempts.
Defensively,, the Vaqueros held Bishop, which returned almost all of the players who threw, ran or caught the ball last season, to just 39 yards rushing on 18 carries, and allowed just six completions on 20 pass attempts, for a total of 76 yards. Sixty of those passing yards came on consecutive plays on Bishop’s best drive of the game, that ended when the Vaqueros forced a fumble that Jones recovered inside the Fernley 5-yard line.
“The defense played real well,” Ward said. “It was nice to start off with a win.”
But how many more wins the Vaqueros add this season, and whether any of them come against the teams that wind up competing for the top spots in the league standings, will in large part be determined by how precise the Vaqueros are in the execution of their offense, the things like stepping forward with the correct foot first, and turning their shoulders to the correct angles.
“We started looking a the tape and we’ve got a lot of stuff to correct,” Ward said. “We definitely did some things good, but we had a lot of plays where we stepped the wrong way, had assignment issues, or turned our shoulders the wrong way.”
Those mistakes will be amplified against the better teams the Vaqueros face, such as this week’s Northern 3A League opener against Truckee, and next week’s game at Fallon, the defending state champions.
The Wolverines opened their season with a 21-7 loss to Bear River (Grass Valley, Calif.), a team that was 11-2 last year and won two games in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs before losing in overtime to Colfax.
Truckee defeated Fernley 34-17 in the first league game last season, and Ward isn’t expecting much dropoff from the Wolverines, despite the graduations of a bunch of productive seniors.
“With their tradition, they’re always going to be solid,” Ward said.
Notes: The Vaqueros were one of four Northern 3A teams to beat their nonleague opponents last week, while three league schools lost their season openers. It was the first time since 3015, when the Vaqueros beat Hug 34-12, that Fernley has won its opening game of the season.
Coach Chris Ward escaped injury when a player ran into him on the sideline during Jones’ 84-yard touchdown run, but Truckee coach Josh Ivens wasn’t so lucky. Ivens was hit by a blocker on the second play of the Wolverines’ game against Bear River last Friday and suffered a broken leg. It’s uncertain whether he will be on the sidelines for the Wolverines Friday night.