Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
As if they needed another reminder that this shortened spring season would be unlike any other they’ve ever played, there was a dusting of snow on the ground when the Fernley Vaqueros took the field for their first day of practice on Feb. 20.
Seven months after they were originally scheduled to play, the Vaqueros will start their shortened spring season Saturday at Spring Creek. But instead of lining up to defend their 2019 3A state championship last fall, the Vaqueros will be playing just five regular season games with no playoffs this spring, plus a possible bowl game or crossover against a team from the 3A North – West League. But just like it wasn’t a certainty there would even be a season, it’s still to be determined whether Fernley would even play a sixth game, since that week falls during Lyon County’s Spring Break.
Even whether the Vaqueros would be able to play Saturday’s opener was in doubt as late as Friday afternoon, before the school received the required Covid-19 tests the NIAA is requiring every week.
On top of all that, all of the Vaqueros’ games this season will be on the road, because their home field and track facility was damaged by a flash flood last summer.
All of that aside, coach Chris Ward said he is just happy the Vaqueros get to play, especially the team’s nine seniors.
“It was horrible to think they weren’t going to get to do anything in their senior season. With basketball and wrestling canceled, we were sure we weren’t going to get to play,” Ward said. “We want to do them right and give our seniors an opportunity to have a good time and play and maybe get some film of themselves to use for college recruiting.”
The Vaqueros have about 70 players in the program, with 17 juniors joining the nice seniors and several sophomores on the varsity.
With the shortened spring season coming so soon before a hopefully more normal season next fall gives the coaches a unique opportunity to develop younger players for next fall. Ward said the coaches attended several virtual clinics and have come up with some new tweaks for their option offense they will try out this spring.
“We want to take a look at some of this stuff now, and use as a springboard for next year,” Ward said. “The biggest thing is to take a look and see what things we want to keep.”
The Vaqueros will have an entirely different offensive line from their 2019 championship season, but return most of their skill position players, except quarterback Miles Steele. Ward said the new quarterback, Julian McIntyre, has many of the same strengths as Steele, and also some very different skills. McIntyre’s biggest contribution to the program so far was a crucial interception in the state championship game against Fallon, where he filled in at safety.
Behind McIntyre, the Vaqueros return running backs Brandon and JR Reyes, as well as slotback Anthony Thompson, one of the fastest players in the league. Receiver Carson Kingston also returns. The line won’t be as big as it was in 2019, but Ward said it looks pretty solid, with some good depth behind the starters.
“We think we can be pretty good,” Ward said.
With the field still unplayable because of the flooding, Fernley administration looked into several options for playing home games, including Lovelock, Silver Stage, Fallon and Dayton, as well as the field at Fernley Intermediate School, but none of them worked out for a variety of logistical reasons.
In Spring Creek, the Vaqueros will face a team they beat 27-6 in 2019. With no scrimmage film to look at, Ward said he has no idea what kind of changes the Spartans might have made, and said all the coaches can go by in preparing for the game is knowing which players the team returns from the last season.
“We are going in blind, but they probably think that too,” Ward said.
Either way, he expects the Spartans to be good.
“Spring Creek is Spring Creek,” he said. “They’re always solid. Their kids are tough.”
The game will be live-streamed online at nfhsnetwork.com and broadcast locally on the radio at 101.3 FM Biggest Little Radio.