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Special Teams: Rail City schools looking for special efforts in key conference clashes
by Dan Eckles
Sep 22, 2011 | 861 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Veteran Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell talks with players during Wednesday's practice.
Tribune photo by John Byrne - Veteran Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell talks with players during Wednesday's practice.
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As a collective group, this may be the most challenging weekend of the early season for the Rail City’s trio of prep football programs. All three are expected to face tough tests against league foes tonight.

Reed travels to McQueen in a battle of Northern 4A title contenders. Spanish Springs goes to Damonte Ranch to face what many believe is the best Mustangs team in the short history of DRHS. At Sparks, the Railroaders go into a likely must-win game at home against Fallon in a contest featuring two teams facing first-month struggles.

Here’s a preview look at the those three matchups.

— Fallon (1-2) at Sparks (0-4), 7 p.m. —

•This Northern 3A League affair pits a pair of teams in similar situations. Fallon won its opener but has not won since, while Sparks has found new ways to lose each week and is still looking for its first victory.    

“We are in similar situations,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “You can get close to the point where the losses pile up and that eliminates you from the playoff race. We are both in that situation. They may be a step ahead with that win over South Tahoe.”

Fallon has faced a pair of teams in Dayton and Elko the last two weeks that are predominantly run-oriented teams. That has made it tough for Sparks, which boasts a real passing threat offensively, to get much from watching recent game film of the Greenwave. Sparks coaches don’t quite know what to expect from a Greenwave defense that hasn’t seen much of an aerial attack.

“It’s been so tough to get stuff off film,” Kittrell said. “But Fallon does match up well with our receivers. It will be a good test offensively. Hopefully, they will have forgotten how to play the pass since they’ve played running teams the last couple of weeks.”

While Kittrell was half joking about the latter comment, he is 100 percent serious about his team needing an improved effort running the ball on offense and stopping the run on defense.

“The run defense has got to get a lot better,” he said. “We are just a step slow on defense. The only way to cure that is to simplify it. We’ve simplified it as much as we can ... And we have to be able to get the run game going. We haven’t been successful at that the last few weeks, especially early on. When we do that, it gives our offense a little more confidence. We feel pretty confident we can throw the ball. Once we can run it, our whole offense will really click.”

Neither running nor stopping the run is expected to be easy for Sparks. While Fallon may sit at 1-2, Kittrell had nothing but good things to say about the Greenwave’s schemes and personnel.

“They run a pistol offense and a zone blocking scheme,” Kittrell said. “They’ve got very good running backs. We’ve got a tough night ahead of us stopping the run and to have any chance of winning, we have to stop that. Plus, they’ve got a very physical offensive line.”

— Reed (2-1) at McQueen (2-1), 7:30 p.m. —

•This is a carbon copy matchup on paper. Both teams lost at home on opening night to tough California teams and both teams have bounced back with back-to-back wins after a Week 2 bye. Now, they get to play each other in a game many believe could decide the Northern 4A championship.

Reed coach Ernie Howren is taking it all in stride, playing it off like it’s no big deal.

“I’m not trying to downplay it, but we’re treating this as any other week,” the Raiders 11th-year coach said. “It’s a league game and it’s the next game. So it’s the most important game.”

Reed lost a 41-37 heartbreaker to Granite Bay in its fall debut but has rolled to 47-30 and 65-0 wins over Douglas and Hug the last two weeks. McQueen was dumped by Nevada Union 27-6 and then drubbed North Valleys 58-8 before needing a late comeback to escape with a 36-29 win at Damonte Ranch last week.

The comparative scores would lead many to label Reed as a solid favorite, but Howren says not so fast.

“If you go back and watch that Damonte-McQueen game, there were some mistakes by McQueen that it doesn’t usually make,” Howren said. “McQueen won’t make those mistakes twice. McQueen is a very fast, very physical football team. I have not seen any letdown in what they always pride themselves: physical play and discipline. They bring that to each game.”

Reed could not have looked more dominant than it did in trouncing Hug. The Raiders had a 38-0 lead at the first quarter’s conclusion and were never threatened. But the Raiders’ coaching staff knows their players better not be living in the past during McQueen week.

“Right now it’s a game-to-game focus. We were pleased with what we did last week, but this is a new week. We’re going against a great program and the focus now had better be on what we need to do to beat McQueen,” Howren said.

While Howren says his team is progressing well through the first month of the fall campaign, he also knows there is plenty to improve on, namely blocking and tackling. He stressed those are areas that must improve if his squad is to reach its long-term goals.

“We’re always focused on improving our blocking schemes up front,” he said. “We want those to be as clean as they can be and you can always get better at tackling. That’s something you can never take for granted. When you have a week like this, playing McQueen with its quick group of running backs, you’re tackling had better be sound and you better have intensity getting to the ball carrier and bringing him down.”

Reed would like to wear down McQueen and all foes with its up-tempo, no-huddle offense. The Raiders want to run plays quickly in hopes of tiring out an opponent and catching it off-guard.

“We try and go as fast as we possibly can,” Howren said. “We want other teams to try and practice as fast as we go. We believe that’s going to be hard to replicate when you’re not used to doing it. We’d like to think we’re in really great shape and running our scheme does wear people down.”

— Spanish Springs (3-1) at Damonte Ranch (0-3), 7:30 p.m. —

•A year ago Spanish Springs buried Damonte Ranch at SSHS. Cougars coach Scott Hare has probably warned his players all week that it won’t be that easy this time around. That warning should be heeded pretty well, considering Spanish Springs players had to watch film of the Mustangs nearly upsetting perennial state power McQueen last week.

Damonte has been bitten by some tough luck, falling 31-27 in its opener and then having to follow that up against traditionally tough opponents in Manogue and McQueen. Hare believes it’s just a matter of time before the Mustangs find the win column.

“I remember after I watched their Reno game that I thought Damonte was a playoff team,” Hare said. “They will be our toughest in-state opponent so far. I think this is Year 1 of Damonte being somebody you have to worry about. They have kids right now who believe they can and should win. They will start winning games and beating people and if we’re not ready, it will be us.”

Spanish Springs had some high expectations as the season started but a 55-14 trouncing at the hands of Norcal power Del Oro kept the Cougars from drinking too much Kool-Aid. The lopsided loss kept the team hungry, but Hare said after three straight wins, he’s had to spend some time this past week refocusing his club on getting better and working hard.

“Tuesday was not a good practice. It’s one of the first bad practices we’ve had,” Hare said. “The coaches jumped the kids pretty good. If you learn to practice poorly, it’s hard to turn that around. We must turn it around and get back to the things we know.”

Spanish Springs has averaged 40 points in its last three outings. Hare likes that this Cougars group is showing much more firepower than his teams of the past. All-league candidates at running back (Conrad Tanyi) and quarterback (Hunter Fralick) as well as a talented group of receivers are giving the Cougars a balanced lethal offensive attack they have never had.

“That has a lot to do with our personnel. In the past, we’ve had a receiver or two, but now we’ve got four. We are getting big plays. And Conrad has a lot to do with that too,” Hare said, alluding to his running back’s back-to-back 100-yard games. “And if teams back up on us a bit because of the passing game, then I think Conrad will have even bigger games.

“The thing I like most about this team, is when another team scores, we come right back and score ourselves. That’s happened in our last three games. That’s a good mindset. We don’t want to give up points, but it’s also nice that we’re not in panic mode if we do.”

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