They will not surprise anyone this season.
Nevertheless, the Fernley football team is once again ready to crash the postseason party. The Vaqueros stunned the state last season with an improbable 7-0 win at Truckee to snap the Wolverines’ 41-game winning streak. After that win, though, Fernley lost four straight including a 47-13 loss at the hands of Truckee in the playoffs.
An issue for Fernley and many teams in western Nevada has been a reduced practice schedule due to the smoke from California wildfires.
“I feel like we are behind because of the smoke,” Fernley coach Chris Ward said, “and with the early start to the school year, I wasn’t able to run double-days like I wanted to. I don’t feel like we are as far ahead.”
Despite weather condition, Ward said his club has a grasp on the offense since it was installed last season. With a strong senior core, however, Fernley has the tools to work through the inconvenience.
The Vaqueros open the season Friday at 7 p.m. at South Tahoe.
“Last year was a big learning year for our kids,” Ward added. “Those fires are raging.”
The Vaqueros run last season, though, was lifted by a stingy defense and precision offense. The offense was revamped to an option-based attack using the speed and skill of quarterback Skylar Williams.
The senior rushed for a team-high 723 yards and 13 touchdowns and completed 56 of 113 passes for 663 yards with five TDs and four interceptions.
This season, though, Williams must rely on a fresh crop of running backs as Fernley lost two of its leading ball carriers from last season.
The receiving corps, meanwhile, returns two of its three top pass catchers from a season ago. Erik Wilson (12 receptions, 179 yards and two TDs) and Kyle Bryce (11, 156, two) anchor the passing attack for the Vaqueros.
Despite the loss of seniors, Ward said he will rely on the talent moving from last season’s JV squad.
“They got another year in the weight room … and a little more savvy about what we are doing,” he added. “I think we got some pretty good kids.”
Defensively, though, Fernley’s front seven took a hit due to graduation. The Vaqueros lost all-league defensive lineman Saylas Conner, who led the club with eight sacks. In addition, Fernley must replace a core of players who tallied 25 of the team’s 32 sacks.
In the secondary, Anfernee Sloan, an all-league selection, returns, and Ward must replace a group that held Truckee, South Tahoe and Fallon through the air.
Turnovers are a key and like the front seven, Fernley lost five players who recorded nine of the team’s 10 interceptions. Anchoring the front seven, though, is Anthony Cooney who recorded two sacks and seven tackles at linebacker.
“We got some kids coming back who played a lot last year and were very important for us,” Ward said.
Fernley, though, stumbled down the stretch last season with four consecutive losses including a 34-28 loss to rival Dayton. Ward said his club was emotionally wiped from the Truckee win and suffered numerous injuries that plagued the team in the final weeks.
Perhaps more importantly, Ward said his players lost focus.
“I guess when you beat one of (former Truckee coach) Bob Shaffer’s team’s, you pay a price,” Ward said. “We had that blue collar attitude the first few games. We are going to out work people.
I guess when we beat Truckee, we lost our focus. That was a pretty emotional win … and we lost our edge. I hope that’s what they learned — stay focused.”