Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
With their playoff hopes depending on the outcome of other games, and their final league game against Dayton canceled because Dayton dropped its varsity team earlier this season, the Fernley Vaqueros will wrap up the regular season Friday night against Carson, a late addition to the schedule to allow them to play their full allotment of 10 games.
The Vaqueros won’t know until all of the results are in from around the Northern 3A this week whether they will be included in the playoffs under the NIAA’s playoff point system. While they’re preparing as if they will be playing next week, they’re also aware that this might be the last high school game for their three seniors.
“I’m telling those seniors, let’s go enjoy this week,” coach Anfernee Sloan said. “Yes, I’m looking for us to go obviously on, but if it doesn’t happen, embrace it, because you’re looking at 96 hours and then a really fast 48 minutes.”
The Vaqueros could have ensured their playoff with a win last Friday in Fallon, but instead, got a first-hand look at why the Greenwave is in line to be the No. 1 seed from the North. But in doing so, they also showed how they can be a dangerous foe for any opponent, and what they’re capable of being.
The Vaqueros rallied back to cut a 22-point deficit to 7, and had the ball with a chance for a tying or winning drive, before coming up short, 42-28.
“I’m very, very proud of our football program,” Sloan said. “I would run that game back a hundred times again if I could. It was fun to watch.”
Sloan was most pleased with the Vaqueros’ rally to cut a 35-13 deficit to 35-28. That came with 5:44 left in the game, when slotback Johnny Williams took a toss on a reverse and fired a perfect pass for a 37-yard touchdown to Ulises Hernandez on a play made famous by the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52, a play the Vaqueros call 118 Philly Special.
“I said this play right here won a Super Bowl, let’s see if it works,” Sloan said. “It was a beautiful throw. That’s up there for one of the more gutsier things I’ve called, for sure.”
Fallon had scored on a 60-yard touchdown pass from Bryce Adams to Ethan Tarner on the first play of the third quarter to go ahead 35-13. After coming up short on fourth-and-goal, the Vaqueros got the ball back after forcing Fallon’s first punt of the game, and put together a 59-yard drive, scoring on a 16-yard run by Gabe Tollestrup to make it 35-20.
Then they forced another punt, and again drove 59 yards, the last 37 of them on the Philly Special. But Fernley’s onside kick was unsuccessful. Fallon was able to run out most of the clock, but the Vaqueros forced on last punt and had the ball with a little more than two minutes left, but Carter Paul intercepted a pass from Tollestrup, and Fallon punched in a late touchdown with 1:02 left in the game.
“I bet you if that ball rolls over one more time (on the onside kick), it might bounce funny and we get it,” Sloan said.
Instead, the Vaqueros were reduced to taking away the positives from their sixth loss of the season.
One of those was the fight they showed after falling behind, and another was their opening drive, when they marched 65 yards in eight plays to take a 6-0 lead on a 6-yard run by Tollestrup.
“I thought we moved that ball right down the field, not just that drive, but the entire course of the game,” Sloan said. “That’s a good, big-time drive against a really good, disciplined football team, which I thought threw multiple defenses at us, and our kids did what they did best and executed.”
The loss might have ended the Vaqueros’ playoff hopes, and even if it didn’t, it came against the one team the Vaqueros want to beat the most. Still, Sloan was quick to smile afterward talking about his team’s effort, an attitude he said comes from his playing days at Eastern Oregon.
“When I was at Eastern that was a big thing for us, the way that you walk, the way that you talk, that whole aspect of just hey, something good can be taken out of this thing,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed or even heartbroken. I think if your kids play hard and they fight and they do really, really good things, there’s no reason for you to ever be upset at them nor be disappointed or heartbroken.