However, while that may not seem that far away to some, it was an eternity ago on the prep football calendar. That was season-opening weekend and now prep football programs across the Silver State are prepping for their regular season finales.
Spanish Springs and Reed, which are both playoff bound, conclude their regular season with the annual rivalry league game between the two schools. Sparks wraps up its season with a contest against Wooster. Here’s a closer look at the two games involving Sparks schools. Both kick off at 7 p.m. Friday.
Spanish Springs at Reed
Reed is coming off a disappointing loss last weekend in which it fumbled late in the fourth quarter to give Reno a possession the Huskies used to post a game-winning score. Then the Raiders drove to the Reno 4-yard line and missed a field goal that could’ve still won the game. That loss followed up a win in which a formerly vaunted Raiders defense gave up 500-plus yards and 40 points to North Valleys.
It’s safe to say all is not smiles and lollipops in Raider land this weekend. Reed coach Ernie Howren says his team needs to come back to work with a renewed sense of urgency.
“When you lose a game, obviously you’re not doing something right,” Howren said. “You always give credit to the team you played, but if you’re saying somebody is better than you, than you don’t have confidence in your ability. We’ve got to pick our effort up in practice, in film study, in the scouting report. Everything about our program has got to get better because obviously what we’ve been doing did not put us in a position to win last Thursday night.”
While the Raiders (7-1, 3-1) were far from pleased after getting saddled with their first defeat of the fall campaign, everything RHS players and coaches work toward during the season and offseason can still be attained. A win Friday against Spanish Springs (4-4, 2-2) will clinch the High Desert League title for Reed and a No. 1 seed into the regional playoffs that begin next week.
“One of the first things we said was everything we want is still there to go after,” Howren said. “At this point, it happened. We lost a game. We need to now understand that we must come out with an attitude and approach to practice that puts us in a situation to win. Maybe, if we’re honest with ourselves, we were not doing that the past couple weeks. Shame on us. We haven’t pushed ourselves as coaches and players, not truly. But all of our goals are still there and that’s what we’re rallying around.”
Spanish Springs ensured itself of a postseason berth after knocking off North Valleys a week ago. After being in contention and dropping back-to-back games against Reno and McQueen in its two previous outings, the Cougars were jubilant to bounce back and bounce North Valleys, especially after trailing by two touchdowns early in the third quarter before ripping off 34 unanswered points en route to victory.
“I really tried to stay calm at halftime and tried to tell them this isn’t about me or the coaches or anyone else,” Cougars coach Scott Hare said. “It’s about having no regrets. I said, ‘I could tear into you because I am upset about the things we’re doing, but the truth is, this is your season and your game. I know you want to win. Relax and go do it. Stop worrying so much about all the things surrounding you.’ I thought they responded. It was definitely an enjoyable second half to watch.”
Now Hare finds himself in an unenviable position. The Cougars have suffered bumps and bruises all year. The team has not started the same defensive unit in any two games this fall. On Senior Night last week, it had seven seniors honored who were not dressed out and six of those would be starters. Hare said his team is getting healthier, but he’s faced with making a tough call. He could play some athletes this week, who would play in a must-win game, or he can rest them another week and have them near 100 percent for the SSHS gridders’ playoff opener Nov. 8.
It may not be the most popular decision, but Hare’s made the call.
“I’m going to make sure our guys are as healthy as possible (for the playoffs),” Hare said. “If that means not necessarily playing what could be our best lineup so be it. That’s my call as the head coach. At this point in time, I want us ready for the tournament ... I’m not going to play a kid at 80 percent against Reed if I can get him to 95 percent the following week for the postseason. I want us full-steam ahead as best as we can possibly do for the first round of the playoffs.”
Both coaches gave the other team the obligatory pregame praise. Howren stressed that Spanish Springs quarterback Hunter Fralick is one the top signal callers to come out of the region. He added that Fralick may not be fun to prepare for, but that he wants his team to get on the field and compete against the best.
“There are things Spanish Springs does offensively that are as good as any team in the league right now,” Howren said. “Led by Hunter, he’s as talented a kid as we’ve seen in a long time. He really understands the game of football. He’s got a presence out there and he’s definitely a leader. You can feel that watching the game. He understands what he’s doing. It’s fun to watch him and it’s fun to play against guys like that. He’s a challenge and our kids are up for that challenge. They’re excited about that.”
On the flip side, Hare said Reed’s loss to Reno doesn’t change how good the Raiders are and in his eyes doesn’t change the fact that Reed is still the favorite to win a regional title.
“Reed is really good. They’re really big and a really physical football team. They are the best team in the region,” Hare said.
“I don’t think Reed has played its best game. You get 10 games and you’re not going to play your best every single week. You’re playing with high school kids. Reed made a couple mistakes last week and Reno capitalized, but that doesn’t change the fact that Reed is the best team today, in late October. One loss doesn’t change that ... Reed is going to come out and play good, sound football. I’m sure they won’t make the same mistakes they made against Reno and they’ll give us their best game.”
Wooster at Sparks
It’s been a long three years for the Sparks High football team. The Railroaders won just one game in 2011, went winless in 2012, and with just one game remaining in 2013, the SHS club has yet to win a game again this fall.
Veteran Railroaders coach Rob Kittrell has won big games at Sparks High, including key regular season wins over Reed and Reno as a member of the large-school classification and pivotal playoff wins over Wooster as a 4A member and Spring Creek as a 3A member. Now, he’d like to see his current group of players experience that sweet taste of victory just once in their prep careers.
“Our senior class, they haven’t won a game,” Kittrell said. “One thing I promised those guys is they’re going to get a win this year, and time is running out. We’ve been getting better and building up to this last week. It’s been tough but we want to get over the hump this week.”
Wooster has experienced some of the same losing woes as Sparks (0-8) in recent years, but the Colts have been more competitive this fall and sit 3-5 on the season going into both school’s season finale. Beating the Reno school certainly won’t be easy for Sparks. Wooster knocked off Spring Creek, Dayton and South Tahoe, schools that have all put double-digit defeats on the Railroaders.
“Wooster reminds me a lot of us three years ago (2010 season) when we went 4-5,” Kittrell said. “We caught a little fire early, got an early win out at Spring Creek and got a lot of confidence. Confidence is so huge. It’s a big factor in high school sports.
“Wooster’s running back, No. 44 (Foa Safara), he can run the ball really well. We’re not going to bring him down with one guy. We have to gang tackle. Their QB is pretty accurate and makes good reads. They run a good offensive system. Defensively, they’ll try to bend and not break. They want to force you to make mistakes so they get the ball back.”
Kittrell liked that temperatures had dropped by 20 degrees early in the week. He said it felt more like fall football weather than last week’s fall reprieve that brought warm afternoons in the mid-70s. He said he wouldn’t even mind if Friday night brought some rain and snow and got the field a little muddy. But most of all, he’d just like to find a way to help his kids triumph.
“I’d hate to see core group of kids miss out on a win,” he said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked, regardless of wins or losses. There are a lot of life lessons still to be learned about fighting through adversity and improving from hard work, but just from my perspective as their coach, it would be really good for the kids to win. It would be great for them in that last game to walk off a winner. It would be something I’d like them to have.”