DAYTON - The Dayton defense had been the focal point in the team's first three wins to start the season and the story was more of the same Friday, with an added bonus - a few big offensive plays as the Dust Devils (1-0 Northern 3A, 4-0) shut down Sparks 29-14.
The defense played so well that the Railroaders (0-1 Northern 3A, 1-3) had just 63 offensive yards in the first half. They finished with 77 and one touchdown. The other score came on a 78-yard fumble recovery by Angel Guillen in the first quarter.
"We work hard and we don't talk," Dayton cornerback Conner Oliver said. "We talk with our pads; it's on our shirts that we got. Play with our hearts, talk with our pads. That's all it is."
Dayton defensive coordinator Mike Burrows obviously doesn't wear pads, so he perferred to let head coach Rick Walker do the talking for him.
"Finally offensively we did a little bit to help them, (but) yeah, our defense has been outstanding," Walker said. "Ricky Bodine has led the way for sure. Kyle Firestone had a fanastic game, the game of his life.
"Other than us giving them chances, we pretty much shut them down. We shot ourselves in the foot and that kid Guillen ran a lot harder than I saw him on film; both those backs did and they kept fighting."
Sparks fumbled the ball four times, with Dayton picking up three of them. The game-changer came in the third quarter when the Dust Devils pinned Sparks on its own 4-yard line after an Oliver punt. Sparks started to build some momentum, but quickly shot itself in the foot. Guillen ran for a 32-yard gain that would have put Sparks at the 38, but on his way he grabbed safety Connor Conroy's face mask when attempting to stiff arm. The penalty brought the ball back to the 18. On the ensuing play, Sparks quarterback Joe Puccinelli took a delay keeper up to the 24 where the ball popped out of his arms. Oliver alertly picked up the ball and ran in for a 24-yard, go-ahead score.
"I missed an easy catch for a touchdown, I had to redeem myself," Oliver said. "It was a big play. We only won by two touchdowns, that could have been it."
After the score, Sparks earned just one first down in the final 19 minutes, 46 seconds.
The offense got involved early, a far cry from last week's 12-6 overtime win against 2A powerhouse Battle Mountain. Alex Kupp caught an 84-yard touchdown pass on third and 11 for the Dust Devils' first score of the game, but they missed the extra point to make the score 7-6.
In the second, Kage Walker connected with Dusty Smith for a 36-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone and the Dust Devils picked up the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14.
The offense added the final score in the fourth quarter with 10:49 remaining when Walker connected with Conroy for a 2-yard touchdown pass. The Dust Devils added one more two-point conversion to make the scoring complete.
All week long the Dust Devils talked about trying to earn some respect, but said that wouldn't come until they won a league game. Consider the respect earned.
"Everybody said, 'Yeah, their 3-0, but it's Dayton so their not really on the map,'" Oliver said. "This put is on the map and next week with Spring Creek we're going to prove it again."