TRUCKEE - Surprise Stadium could not have been more aptly named Saturday.
The fourth-seeded Fernley Vaqueros unleashed 28 points in the first half and survived a valiant second-half comeback by the host Wolverines to escape with a 28-27 win in the opening round of the Northern 3A postseason.
"This is the team we wanted to play," Fernley coach Mark Hodges said of Truckee, the Northern 3A's No. 1 seed with a perfect 5-0 record entering the contest. "If we were going to break through - if this was going to be our year to finally break through - we had to do it right here on Truckee's home turf.
"I give them credit, though. We had them on the ropes (trailing 28-14 at the half) and they responded."
Respond they did, as the Wolverines dominated the clock with long scoring drives the final two quarters while their defense tightened up to hold the Vaqueros (2-3 entering Saturday's showdown) to just 37 total yards - 2 yards rushing and 35 yards passing. By comparison, Fernley gained 262 yards in the first half.
Meanwhile, Truckee's offense went to work after the break, chewing up 174 yards in the second half via a balanced attack from its ground and air games.
After narrowing the score to 28-21 midway through the third quarter, the Wolverines amassed an 18-play scoring drive that took up nearly 8 minutes.
Facing first-and-goal from the 7 following a crucial Fernley pass interference, junior fullback and linebacker Ryan Macken rumbled into the end zone standing with 1:17 remaining in the game. On the extra point attempt for the tie, junior wingback and defensive back Ryan Roberts - kicking in place of an injured Cruz Esquivel - made a slight stutter step before sending the kick wide left of the upright.
The orange-clad mass of Vaquero fans lining the visitors' section erupted in celebration as Truckee supporters stood in silent disbelief.
Fernley senior back Neil Kendricks ran for a 6-yard gain and quarterback Bryce Baker took two kneel-downs to run out the clock.
"That was a rough one. It kind of reminds me of Dayton last year," said Truckee coach Bob Shaffer, referring to his team's overtime loss during the first playoff round a year ago, which stemmed from a missed extra point that also sailed wide left.
"But I'm proud of the way we played," the coach continued. "There's probably a lot of teams that, if they went in at halftime down 28-14, they pretty much would have stayed in there mentally. And that's not what our kids are about. ...
"It's just a shame it ended that way. It would have been nice to have the fairy tale story come true, but it wasn't going to happen today."
Shaffer went on to defend Roberts, one of Truckee's primary play-makers who finished with six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown and 24 yards rushing. He pointed out that the Wolverines had far too many mistakes throughout the game to pin the loss on the one missed kick.
"You can't point at the missed extra point and say that's what cost us the game," Shaffer said. "For as good a game as that young man had, for him to feel as horrible as he does, it's a shame. He made catches that were unbelievable. What a competitor he turned out to be."
Hodges agreed, commending the effort by Roberts and senior quarterback Keven Sahlberg, who completed 12-of-22 passes for 199 yards while rushing for 27.
"That No. 3, Sahlberg, he's quite a player," Hodges said. "Numbers 2 (Roberts) and 3, they're both tremendous players."
On the Fernley side, Kendricks and Baker proved to be the dynamic duo. Kendricks rushed for 120 yards on 11 carries - including a 59-yard touchdown run in the first quarter - while Baker threw for 130 yards and three TDs on 14-of-17 passing. Kendricks gained 113 of his yards in the opening half.
"I think the kids showed their true grit," Shaffer said. "They came out in the second half and said, 'This is not how we want to go out.' To come out and compete as hard as they did in the second half and come up short, gosh that hurts."