Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
In the weeks since their season-opening loss to Lowry, Fernley football coach Anfernee Sloan has vowed time and again that the Buckaroos would see a much different Vaqueros team when they met again I Week 7.
He couldn’t have hoped for a more complete turnaround.
The Vaqueros capitalized on two early Lowry turnovers and put together two dominant drives late to roll to a 41-14 win last Friday night, an almost eerie reversal of the game between the teams on August 19.
In that game, the Vaqueros turned the ball over on their first play of the game and trailed 10-0 before they ran their second play from scrimmage.
Friday, they benefited from a fumble on the opening kickoff then turned another fumble into a 77-yard touchdown pass to jump out to a 14-0 lead barely three minutes into the game.
“I’ve been dreaming about that all year,” Sloan said.
It was also the first game all season in which the Vaqueros didn’t turn the ball over themselves. All season long, they’ve fallen behind against good teams because of early turnovers and been unable to come back. This time, they used the script that had worked against them so often.
“They for once didn’t turn the football over,” Sloan said. “That showed right there what this team is capable of doing. They value the football, they don’t turn it over, they could be undefeated right now.”
The game started with a bang for the Vaqueros. Lowry fumbled on the opening kickoff return, and on their first play from scrimmage, Gabe Tollestrup hit Jake Cumming with a deep pass for a 35-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
“The kids wanted to take a shot on that first play, and I said ‘Let’s do it,’” Sloan said. “Oh my gosh, it just gives me goose bumps, it starts fast like that, you get the early turnover.”
Lowry had a nice drive going on their first possession, moving from their 30-yard line to the Fernley 30, but the drive ended with a fumble.
On the next play, Tollestrup took an option keeper 77 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Tollestrup scored his second touchdown on a four-yard run with 2:57 left in the second quarter to make it 21-0.
Looking for a spark to get back into the game, Lowry attempted an onside kick to open the second half, but Fernley recovered and drove 51 yards in seven plays for a two-yard touchdown run by Garrett Harjo to make it 28-0.
Lowry had an answer, scoring on its next two drives to cut the lead to 28-14 with 11:18 left in the game.
But Fernley went 80 yards in eight plays scoring on Tollestrup’s third touchdown run of the game, from 20 yards out, to make it 35-14.
“I was very pleased with what I saw there. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Sloan said. “I thought there was a very efficient drive.”
Marciano Montano finished the scoring with a 21-yard run that was more like a tractor pull than a sprint. He was wrapped up by a defender and dragged him several yards into the end zone.
“That was a pretty amazing run that Marciano Montano had down there,” Sloan said. “That fourth quarter I thought was pretty picture perfect for the offense, just being able to execute and go get it.”
While losing five times in their first seven games, including three in a row heading into Friday’s game, Sloan continued to say he was seeing signs of progress and was confident the team has a bright future when it learns to eliminate mistakes. Friday, the Vaqueros showed that potential for all to see.
“From week one to now, I think there’s been a lot of growth, this team has definitely changed,” Sloan said. “I think we might be hitting our strike again. You can kind of see it over the last three weeks.”
The win keeps the Vaqueros potentially alive for a playoff spot, depending on what happens around the league in the next two weeks and how it all shakes out in the complicated point system used to compare teams from the Northern 3A East and West Leagues. But to have any chance, they’ll have to beat Fallon this Friday, but last Friday’s performance suddenly turned that into something at least conceivable.
“I think what it does is it sets them up to have a lot of momentum going into next week,” Sloan said. “If we value the football and just do what we do, I think we’re going to be fine. I think that’s going to be a big-time opportunity for our football program.”