They went from plucky to pesky to a handful over the past two year.
Now, the Fernley football team aims to take the next step and cement its status as one of the best in the Northern Division I-A.
The Vaqueros went from doormat to a playoff team two seasons ago. Last year, Fernley was drummed 49-6 by rival Fallon but nearly pulled a massive upset two weeks later in a 20-12 loss in the first round of the playoffs.
This season, however, features another year under coach Chris Ward’s system with the athletes and skill to put points on the board and hold opposing offenses down.
Fernley has its first chance tonight in a nonconference game at 7 p.m. at Hug.
“We hope to do well again,” Ward said. “This is a good (senior) class to do something in the state (playoffs).
Taking the reins of the offense is senior quarterback Kevin Montgomery, who played in a trio of games last year after starter Skylar Williams went down with an injury.
Montgomery was behind center during the blowout loss to Fallon, but Ward’s confidence in his senior signal caller is sky high.
The difference this year is Montgomery has more than a week to prepare and has been taking all the repetitions under center throughout the offseason and fall camp.
A big, fluid athlete with a good arm and running skills to match, Ward said Montgomery will hold his own under center.
Montgomery is poised to breakout this season. He completed 24-of-48 passes for 316 yards with four TDs and one interception and ran for 166 yards and six TDs last season, but now has a full grasp of the offense.
“I think I’m getting my reads down a little bit better,” Montgomery said. “I think we are better than last year. We got good receivers and linemen, and been working hard.”
The senior, meanwhile, is confident in his abilities plus the weapons surrounding him such as running back Brian Reyes. Reyes was second on the team in rushing last year with 235 yards and three touchdowns.
“We have high expectations this year,” Reyes said. “We are way better than we were last year. I’ve been playing with these guys since we were little. We have a good bond.”
“The last couple years he’s been taking a few snaps at quarterback,” Ward added. “Now he’s taking all the snaps at quarterback. He’s been able to improve more than he has in the past. He’s in control of the huddle … and a lot more comfortable in what he’s doing.”
The focus through fall camp, Ward said, was to have a solid understanding of the team’s base sets on both sides of the ball. In addition, the variations of opposing defenses lining up against Fernley at its scrimmage against Yerington and Dayton, plus tonight’s matchup with the Hawks, will prepare the Vaqueros for the various fronts they will see in league play.
“We just want to run our base stuff against all these types of defense,” Ward said.
Joining Montgomery and Reyes in the attack are receivers Eric Allen, Carlos McIntyre and Devin Archer.
Allen provides an experienced and quick outlet, while McIntyre brings explosivness to the passing game. Archer, meanwhile, is capable of taking the handoff on a dive or lining up in the slot and creating mismatches.
Allen ran for 128 yards and one TD last season, while Archer was limited in the offense and McIntyre was on JV.
“For Kevin, we have great expectations for him,” Reyes said. “We’re going to score touchdowns and we are going to be really good.”
The offense, though, is only effective as the boys up front allow the unit to be. Anchoring the offensive line is 6-foot-6, 280-pound junior guard Tyler Roemer.
The most improved, Ward said, is C.J. Kilbride, who has a full understanding of the schemes and expectations in the trenches.
“It’s just another year of being in the system and doing things he wasn’t doing last year,” Ward said.
Joining Roemer and Kilbride, though, are Dennis Tull, Justin Finkbonner and Grayson Kelly.
“They (Kelly and Finkbonner) can help out with the offensive line so we can actually play some kids in spots where they usually play,” Ward said.
As for the defense, Fernley has relied on its speed the past two seasons and this year is no different. Although the Vaqueros lack a lot bulk in their front eight, it’s the speed providing the difference.
Quick reads and reaction allows the unit, especially the linebackers and defensive backs, to fly to the ball and gang tackle. The unit allowed 22 points per game last season and held four opponents under 20 points or less including one shutout.
“We are pretty much based on speed,” Ward said. “We try to get as much speed out there as possible. We will go with some undersized lineman that can run — with the exception of Roemer.”
The speed and quickness allows Fernley to sidestep blocks, but bulk does come in handy against power running teams such as Elko and Lowry. Nevertheless, the Vaqueros counter with filing gaps with speed.
“Speed is our factor and we try to use it all we can,” Ward said.