Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
For the second time in three years, the Fernley Vaqueros are going to the 3A state football semifinals.
Brandon Reyes scored the winning touchdown from one yard out and the defense, which struggled early, made two crucial stops in the final three minutes as the Vaqueros held on for a 35-28 win over Truckee in a quarterfinal game last Friday night.
“We’ve got two more games, then a ring,” said junior Anthony Thompson, who scored two touchdowns, including a go-ahead 48-yard run in the third quarter.
A defense that had allowed more than 14 points just twice in league play was burned for a couple of touchdown passes in the first half, but held Truckee to seven points in the second half, forcing a punt after the Vaqueros had been stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with a little more than three minutes remaining.
“Down there they’re trying to get the ball out, we knew they were going to run the ball, so we went a heavy run set to stop them and try to get the ball back for our offense,” defensive coordinator Jake McCullar said.
After making a scary looking catch above his head, Kyle Jones returned the punt to the Truckee 37-yard line.
As they huddled before the first play of the drive, several players said they talked about how it was time to make all of their offseason work pay off.
“What the summer conditioning was about, pushing sleds in the summer, it all came down to that,” Reyes said.
On the fifth play of the drive, Reyes burst through the middle for a 21-yard run down to the Truckee 1-yard line, then scored on the next play for the 35-28 led with 1:39 left in the game.
“I think that everybody just clicked and we knew what had to be done and we got it done,” senior Setriano Piroddi said. “That’s all we had to do, was just get it done right there.”
Truckee took over following the kickoff on its own 21-yard line. A holding nullified a completion on first down, and the Vaqueros sacked quarterback Jackson Kahl on the next play, and again on third down, forcing Truckee to try to pick up 23 yards on fourth down. A run on a draw play came up short, and the Vaqueros took a knee on the final play.
“We hadn’t run a line stunt all game,” McCullar said. “Two plays we ran Storm, which is when our D-ends come under and our D-tackles loop out, and they couldn’t block it, and it was awesome.”
Piroddi, who has reached the state tournament twice as a wrestler, said getting there as a team is an even better feeling.
“It’s not just me, it’s the whole damn team working our ass off to get where we’re going,” he said.
Just before the final sequence, the Vaqueros had the chance to take the lead, following a kickoff return by Jones that brought the ball to the Truckee 48. Ten consecutive runs got the Vaqueros to the Truckee 1, but Steele was stopped short of the goal line on two straight plays, the last on fourth-and-goal.
Truckee had tied the game at 28 on a 9-yard touchdown run by Tyler Estabrook after recovering a fumble at its own 49-yard line. The fumble came at the end of a 4-yard run by Steele in which the officials conferred for several minutes before ruling the ball had come out before Steele was down right in front of the Fernley bench.
The game was a back and forth battle up until then.
Ward said he expected Truckee to come ready to play, and the Wolverines tried to catch the Vaqueros off-guard with an onside kick to open the game. It didn’t work, giving the Vaqueros the ball at their own 46-yard line.
Fernley marched 54 yards in eight plays, drawing first blood on a 26-yard touchdown run by Thompson for a 7-0 lead.
Truckee tied the game on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Kahl to Jackson Ellermeyer wit 6:22 still left in the first quarter, and took a 13-7 lead on an 8-yard pass from Kahl to Estabrook with 1:59 left in the first quarter.
“I was getting a little worried at that point,” head coach Chris Ward said. “It seems that some teams like Truckee, they get that, I don’t want to call it luck, because they create their opportunities. It’s not luck, it’s that they create their own opportunities and I was wondering if that was coming on again.”
Fernley was unable to answer on its next drive, but got it’s own fourth-and-1 stop at the Fernley 38 setting up a quick drive that ended with a 33-yard touchdown run by Jones to regain the lead, 14-13.
Because of a roughing the kicker penalty on the extra point, the Vaqueros kicked off from the Truckee 45 and kicker Jack Knodell recovered his own onside kick attempt at the Truckee 37.
Two plays later, Steel stretched the lead to 21-13 with a 29-yard touchdown run with 5:36 left in the first half.
A 43-yard pass play from Kahl to Isaac Cruz led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Finn Loper, and a two-point conversion tied the game at 21.
Truckee threatened on the first drive of the second half, getting to the Fernley 30, but on fourth-and-7 Bailey Torres sacked Kahl for a 7-yard loss.
On the fifth play of the next possession, Thompson came in motion from his slot position, took a pitch from Steele, made one cut and sprinted through the defense for a 48-yard touchdown to make it 28-21.
“I saw the block, and wham, touchdown,” Thompson said.
Ward said the Vaqueros were a little stunned about trailing early in the game, and caught off guard by some things Truckee did differently than in the team’s first meeting, which Fernley won 41-14.
“Our guys didn’t get rattled or anything like that, they just went back to work,” Ward said. “I think they believe in each other. They play for each other, they like each other, that’s a big thing, so I think they’re willing to stick their neck out for each other. It reminds me of two years ago with that group we had.”
That team reached the state semifinals before losing to Mojave.
This time, the Vaqueros have to go on the road, to face Cheyenne in North Las Vegas Saturday at 1 p.m.
“You’re only one of four teams left in it, so it feels good,” Ward said. “I think it’s great for our school. It’s great for our program. It gets a lot of respect from other schools, even in the bigger schools in Reno, I think they kind of know about us, and I think it gets us a lot of respect.”