Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
Fernley will play at fourth-seeded Spring Creek at 6 p.m. Thursday, aiming to avenge a 21-17 loss to the Spartans two weeks ago, a game in which the Vaqueros had two touchdowns called back by penalties and a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the final seconds sail just beyond the reach of a receiver.
The bracket says the Fernley Vaqueros are only the fifth seed as they enter the Northern 3A playoffs Thursday at Spring Creek, but that’s not at all how coach Anfernee Sloan sees his team, or its chances.
That game turned out to decide home field for this week’s game, but Sloan said losing that game the way it happened left a bad taste that the Vaqueros are eager to get rid of.
“There’s a lot of confidence going into this football game, because it’s one thing when you lose to a team and get your butt kicked, but when you lose to them and they don’t really kick your butt, it’s hard to beat a team the second time that you barely beat,” Sloan said.
That loss to Spring Creek left the Vaqueros needing a win over Sparks last Friday just to get into the playoffs. They got that win, 36-20, despite a sloppy performance. The Vaqueros turned the ball over three times, committed several penalties, including one that nullified a touchdown, and saw a touchdown pass in the final minute by Sparks that could have made it a one-score game called back because of a penalty.
Sloan said the sloppy performance followed a sloppy week of practice leading up to the game, but in the end, the only thing he was concerned about was that the Vaqueros got their way into the playoffs.
“They rebounded and they got us back on the horse, now we got to stay on the horse,” Sloan said. “You can see the excitement because now they realize we’re in. Now we just need to go in and do what we need to do.”
After missing out on the playoffs last season because of a tiebreaker, Sloan said the goal since the end of last season has been to get back into the playoffs.
“You get them in and guess what, you’re in the big dance and now I think they have a little bit more they can play for, which makes them want to practice a little bit harder,” he said.
Bryce Stephens threw two touchdown passes to Riley McCullar, who also had an 8-yard touchdown run. Keeshawn Love and Diego Mendez also had touchdown runs for the Vaqueros.
Fernley led 21-7 at the half, and extended that lead to 36-14 late in the third quarter, before the Railroaders cut it to 36-20 with 2:26 left in the game. Sparks then converted an onside kick and looked to have scored again, but a touchdown pass on a fourth down play was called back because the quarterback was across the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball.
“These guys had nothing to lose, they had the same thing that we had on the line tonight,” Sloan said.
All season Sloan has been saying the Vaqueros will be a dangerous foe for any league opponent come playoff time, and now they get the chance to back up his words.
“We’re not an easy five seed by any means,” he said. “Do I think we’re a five seed? No, I don’t. More of a four, maybe a three if things would have kind of panned out they way they should have earlier in the year.”
And while most coaches prefer not to look past the next opponent, Sloan said the Vaqueros are excited about the playing Truckee again if they get past Spring Creek.
“The thing is there’s no next week after next week, if you don’t get what you have to do done,” he said.