Fight for first
Ryan Macken called it in August, well before the first snap of the season.
“I think Sparks is the team to beat,” the all-state junior linebacker said when prodded to break down the competitive Northern 3A division.
Turns out Macken’s forecast was on the money.
Entering the final weekend of the regular season, only Truckee and Sparks remain unscathed through four league games. Coincidence or not, the schedule-makers set the stage for some late-fall drama, as the Railroaders visit Truckee’s Surprise Stadium on Saturday to cap the season.
Beyond pride, much is on the line for both league powers.
If the Wolverines win, improving to 5-0 in the 3A and 8-1 overall, their road to a ninth state championship is paved with consecutive home playoff games. A loss would result in a single home game and another in Las Vegas before the title contest.
The scenario is the same for the Railroaders (4-0, 6-1), who, based on their results, match up across the board with the host Wolverines.
“They’ve been very impressive, obviously,” said Truckee coach Bob Shaffer, who’s scouted three Sparks games this season. “They haven’t lost in league, and they beat all the teams we have.”
By similar scores, too. In those four games, Truckee outscored opponents 111-34 while Sparks posted a differential of 127-37. So the Railroaders can score.
“What we’ll have to do is control all their athletes. They’re very athletic on both sides of the football,” Shaffer said. “They can score from anywhere on the field. They’re very explosive. They have the type of athletes who can hit a home run from just about anywhere.”
Kind of like the Wolverines, whose speedy skilled-position athletes seem to break off at least one big play per contest to offset their grind-it-out ground game.
With athletic players comes tight defense, as evidenced by each squad’s lopsided wins. Shaffer suspects the two stingy units may cancel out, or at least keep in check, the offensive prowess.
“If you like defense, this should be a good game to see ” hopefully,” Shaffer said.
The coach also feels good about the health of his team, which is more intact now than it has been all year. Shaffer said the only ailing player is junior halfback and defensive back Justin Vosburgh, who broke his right hand against Fernley on Oct. 6. Although Vosburgh’s hand is wrapped in a cast, Shaffer said he may see limited action Saturday but is not likely to carry the ball.
“We’ll by relying on the two Esquivel brothers (Cruz and Pablo) to fill in; and they’ve done a nice job,” he said.
(In an unfortunate blow to the team, as well as its entire cast of supporters in the community, quarterback Tucker Ballister went down early in the year with a neck injury that sidelined the senior indefinitely.)
Truckee’s offensive line, which has been banged up for much of the season, again is whole, Shaffer said.
“We’re fairly healthy,” Shaffer said. “Hopefully we can come out of this one the same way entering playoffs.”
To pull off a win over the Railroaders, Shaffer said the Wolverines must have success throwing the ball, like last week when senior Keven Sahlberg threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 9-of-18 passing. Shaffer said Sahlberg should have had four TD passes, as one touchdown was called back and another sure touchdown pass dropped.
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, fans should be treated to a hard-fought football game.
Truckee hosts Sparks on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
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