Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
The pecking order for the Northern 3A playoffs got no clearer last week, but Fernley’s path to the No. 2 seed now has a clear definition, after the Vaqueros 27-6 win at Spring Creek last Friday night.
The Vaqueros held on to third place with a 5-2 league record, and they now have two ways to win the No. 2 playoff seed, and if they beat North Valleys Friday night, they can finish no worse than third.
The Vaqueros finish league play Friday night when they host North Valleys, which enters the game with an 0-6 league record.
With a win, the Vaqueros would be 6-2, and would claim the No. 2 seed if Lowry loses both of its final two games, at Elko Friday night and at home against Fallon Oct. 24. Lowry, on the other hand, can still win the No. 1 seed by winning both games.
Because Lowry beat Fernley 34-28 on Sept. 13, the Buckaroos would win a head-to-head tiebreaker against the Vaqueros. However, Truckee also has two league losses, and with wins against Spring Creek and South Tahoe, the Wolverines could force a three-way tie for second with Lowry and Fernley, if Lowry loses one of its last two games. In that scenario, the Vaqueros would win the tiebreaker by having the best point differential within the tie.
Truckee could also claim the No. 2 seed if the Vaqueros lose to North Valleys, because it beat Lowry 14-0.
So while each of the teams still have several possible outcomes, the path for each team to claim a preferred playoff spot is well spelled out for each.
“It could all still work out,” Fernley coach Chris ward said.
The Vaqueros needed to beat Spring Creek to have a chance for things to break their way, and they overcame some early misfortune to do just that.
“Any time you get on a bus that long, that far and get a win in Spring Creek or Elko, that’s pretty good,” Ward said. “Even if you’re better than them, that’s a tough place to get away with a win.”
The Vaqueros looked well on their way to controlling the game early, but instead found themselves in a dogfight into the second half.
Fernley marched to the Spring Creek 22 yard line with its opening drive, but quarterback Miles Steele was stripped of the ball at the end of a 15-yard run to the Spring Creek 7-yard line. Ward said the Spring Creek defense was relentless in its attempts to pry the ball from Steele on his option keepers.
“Miles had cuts all over his arms from them trying to slap the ball,” Ward said. “His arms were gouged and his knuckles were bleeding.”
The Vaqueros defense forced a Spring Creek punt, and Fernley started its second drive at its own 15 after a penalty negated a 38-yard punt return by Anthony Thompson.
But Thompson broke free for a couple of long runs, and Steele rode a wave of blockers for a 3-yard score on a quarterback sneak to take a 7-0 lead with 1:32 left in the first quarter.
Fernley’s third drive ended when the Vaqueros came up a yard short on third and goal, and their fourth drive ended on a missed field goal after a chop block penalty moved the ball from the Spring Creek 4 to the 19.
The officials ruled the chop block was illegal because the runner was outside of the tackle box, although Ward disagreed, saying the Vaqueros ran an inside veer, in which the ballcarrier runs to a hole off the outside hip of the guard.
Either way, after penetrating the Spring Creek 10-yard line in each of their first four yard drives, the Vaqueros had just 7 points to show for it.
“We were so close to putting them away,” Ward said. “We could have had two or three more scores, easily.”
The Vaqueros didn’t bother getting into the red zone on their last possession of the half, instead scoring on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Steele to Carson Kingston with 25 seconds left in the half to lead 14-0.
Steele added a 4-yard touchdown run on Fernley’s first drive of the third quarter, capping an 85-yard march, to go ahead 21-0.
Spring Creek answered with its own 85-yard drive, cutting the lead to 21-6 on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Guthrie to tight end Ryan Thurston.
The Vaqueros put the game away late in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble on the Spring Creek 4, setting up Miles for his third touchdown of the game for the 27-6 final.
The Vaqueros wound up with 377 yards of total offense, 311 of that on the ground, and held the Spartans to 250. Steele was the leading rusher with 117 yards on 24 carries, and he also completed 3 of 5 passes for 66 yards. Thompson added 89 yards on 10 carries, and Brandon Reyes picked up 71 yards on 14 carries.
Next up for the Vaqueros is North Valleys, which is winless in league play.
“We don’t want to overlook anybody,” Ward said. “We’re going to try to do what we do.”