The Raiders are undefeated. The Railroaders are winless and the Cougars sit at a mediocre 3-3. Still, all three teams are looking to finish the season on a high note and with three weeks left in the regular season, the trio still has reason for optimism.
Here’s a closer look at the three games involving Sparks-area schools this weekend.
Spanish Springs at McQueen, Friday at 7 p.m.
The Cougars (3-3, 1-1 HDL) had won back-to-back games for the first time this fall prior to last weekend’s 31-21 loss at Reno. In that game, the SSHS club drove into the Reno red zone six times but managed only three scores. In a postgame interview, Cougars coach Scott Hare blamed the loss on his team’s inability to finish in the red zone. After a few days of reflection, the local school’s eighth-year coach does not believe the red zone woes are a systemic problem.
“We had three drives we didn’t finish,” Hare said. “One of them was obviously an effort play by Hunter and he fumbled. It’s hard to fault a kid that rushes for 200 yards and throws for another 160. Then we had holding call on the 7-yard line and we had a kid drop a ball in the end zone. That happens. It’s a kid who works hard. He wanted to catch it and just didn’t.
“Overall, I’m very happy with our offensive execution as a team. I’m not sure you look at it and say we need to be better in the red zone. Those were three isolated plays that didn’t go our way.”
The loss hurt the Cougars. A win would’ve essentially locked up a playoff berth. Spanish Springs has a tough league schedule still ahead as it is yet to play traditional league frontrunners McQueen and Reed. Still, Hare was minimizing the defeat to the Huskies.
“Our situation is no different if we beat McQueen and have the loss to Reno than it would’ve been had we beat Reno and lost to McQueen,” he said. “We have one loss in league and now we’re playing a tough McQueen team ... I thought we played Reno well. We just didn’t get in on three key drives. We played hard. We did good things. Now we just keep chopping wood. We work hard, and hopefully, we make those plays this week and get a different outcome.”
The Cougars’ coaching staff believes it knows exactly what to expect from McQueen Friday night.
“McQueen is big and physical. It’s the same Lancers team I’ve seen in my eight years here,” Hare said. “They are big up front. They want to run it down your throat and want to stop the run. That’s who they are. There are no secrets. They don’t care if you know what’s coming, they’re going to come after you up front in the trenches and attack you.”
While bumps and bruises affect all teams the deeper they get into the season, Spanish Springs certainly has not bucked that trend. Hare admitted as much when asked if his team continues to get bitten by the injury bug.
“I can’t imagine anyone being more banged up,” he said. “For one, our entire linebacking corp. is different from when we started ... We’re fighting through it. We’re moving kids around and they’re doing a good job, but it’s hard.”
Reed at North Valleys, Friday at 7 p.m.
The Raiders are 6-0 on the season and have yet to really be challenged. Not one opponent has played the RHS crew to a single-digit game or even been within single digits at the start of the fourth quarter. While some onlookers, at the beginning of the season, wondered if Reed would be able to reload for another highly successful season, there is no more of that talk in mid-October. In fact, the Raiders are getting rave reviews from outsiders.
So how does veteran head coach Ernie Howren and his staff keep the Blue and Gold from getting complacent?
“People talking, that kind of stuff definitely goes on,” Howren said. “We just talk about it up front so it’s not really been an issue. We know we can’t let that kind of stuff affect us as a team. Rather than saying, ‘hey let’s focus on this opponent,’ it’s more about never getting complacent. We find something every single game, something we can rally around. We challenge ourselves every single week.”
Howren said his Raiders will be facing a North Valleys team that is improving and gaining confidence as the season progresses. The Panthers are just 1-5, but they’ve played most of the top teams in the North and knocked off Reno two weeks ago in their league debut.
“They’re definitely a team that’s improving,” Howren said of the north Reno school. “With their quarterback Daniel Lewis coming back, it’s been a shot in the arm for their offense. They’re definitely riding that momentum the last couple weeks.
“Offensively, their goal is to run as many offensive plays as they possibly can. They feel like the more offensive plays they run, the more opportunities they have to score. Defensively, they’re going to throw a couple different fronts at you, run a little zone and a lot of man coverage, trying to match up with your best receivers and forcing you into making tough decisions.”
North Valleys may look to run its hurry-up no-huddle offense and score lots of points against Reed, but that doesn’t mean it will. The Raiders defense is becoming more stingy by the week and is full of hard-hitting playmakers.
“Our defense is getting better in people’s eyes and on paper, but the reality is those guys have been good all season long,” Howren said. “There’s been a couple big plays against them here and there, but I think the defense has been our strength all season. Those guys set the tone for us, playing a physical-type of football every game.”
Sparks at South Tahoe, Friday 7 p.m.
The Div. I-A schedulemakers have not been kind to a struggling Sparks football squad the last two years. One could argue Sparks has had to play the six best teams in the league through the first six weeks of the season, including a stretch where its played perennial powers Truckee, Fallon and Lowry in consecutive weekends.
The first two-thirds of the season would be tough to grind through for any team, let alone a Sparks club trying to rebuild and learn how to win. Sparks has not tasted victory in more than two years, its last win coming on Oct. 6, 2011 against South Tahoe. The good news is things haven’t gone much better for South Tahoe during that same stretch and the two teams meet again this weekend. One team will get its first win of the ‘13 fall campaign.
“Something has got to give on Friday,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “Watching film, South Tahoe plays pretty hard. They play well in spurts, kind of like us. Then the wheels fall off and they get behind. They’ve had two pretty close games, against Dayton and Wooster. So they’ve been in games.”
Sparks, which wraps up its season against South Tahoe, Dayton and Wooster, has yet to be in contention by the time halftime has rolled around. You can bet the Railroaders would love nothing more than to compete in a game into the fourth quarter and have a chance to win late.
“We’re really focusing on little things, getting better, fighting through adversity,” Kittrell said. “If we do get in a competitive game, we’ll see how that pays off. The egos are fragile right now. Fighting through adversity is a big thing for us right now. We’ve harped on it for six weeks. We’ll see what happens Friday.”
Sparks coaches expect the Vikings to be pretty even in the run-pass department. The SHS coaches also expect the California school’s defense to try and apply some pressure.
“Offensively, they’re pretty balanced run-pass,” Kittrell said. “Their quarterback does a nice job throwing the ball. They’ve gone with a new kid there the last couple weeks. When he gets outside the pocket, or has a little time, he does a good job throwing the ball. They just do a good job mixing up the run and pass. And then defensively, they’re going to try and get pressure and slow you down before you get going.”