Clash of Northern 3A titans: Spring Creek at Truckee
Sierra Sun sports editor
In its home opener on Sept. 25, the Truckee varsity football team has set a goal to hold Spring Creek’s junior standout running back James Edwards under 100 yards rushing.
Truckee head coach Bob Shaffer has set this goal because he knows such a feat would virtually guarantee a victory in an early-season Northern 3A showdown featuring two of the top contenders to win the NIAA 3A State Playoffs. Amazingly, only one team has done it over a 15-game period, and Shaffer knows that such a defensive stand would devastate a Spartans offense that relies heavily on the run.
“That’s where we have to make our living against anyone,” said Spring Creek head coach Joel Jund. “We run first ” for sure.”
To understand the magnitude of Truckee’s Sub-100 Objective, consider that Edwards racked up 2,287 yards in 11 games as a sophomore in 2003, an average of nearly 208 yards per game. This season, the 5-11, 190-pounder is on a more impressive pace. Through four games, Edwards has 1,008 yards on 119 carries for an exact average of 252 per game.
“That’s what we’ve put up on the board as our goal ” keep (#)21 under 100,” Shaffer said. “It may take us a quarter or so to find out where he’s at, but we have a little bit of an idea from film where we want to attack.”
Attacking #21 is a good game plan, but his intensity and natural football instincts often leave defenses shaking their collective heads.
“He’s a tough kid ” likes contact,” Jund said. “He reads defenses really well and goes hard. He just loves football.”
Compounding his love for the gridiron, he also takes pleasure in the art of making frustrated tacklers miss.
“He’s real strong, and one arm won’t tackle him,” Shaffer said, “and he does a good job of being shifty when he runs, so you really don’t get a good shot on him.”
Goals drive any sports team, but holding Edwards under 100 yards could be dubbed Mission Impossible. Bishop Manogue is the only school to do it, holding Edwards to 69 yards in a 64-0 regular season romp last year.
What makes the achievement basically preposterous is that it’s common for Edwards to get 30-plus handoffs a game, meaning a defense would have to hold him under 3 yards per carry.
“Edwards is going to get the ball 30 or 35 times, no doubt about it,” Shaffer said. “That’s the strength of their offense.”
The parallel to Edwards’ success, as Shaffer adamantly pointed out, is a superb Spartans offensive line.
“They’ve got some linemen that are just real physical, got quick feet, and they position themselves and block really well,” he said. “(Edwards) is getting all those yards because of the people up front who are blocking for him and creating those running lanes.”
The Wolverines will get their fill of Edwards, but running back Bryce Saddoris, the 3A 130-pound class state wrestling champion last year, is also a threat in short yardage situations. Quarterback David Neumann is a leader and runs the offense well, Shaffer said.
A defense that holds Edwards under 200 yards is a realistic goal of containment, something Truckee was able to do in a 27-21 victory over Spring Creek in the 2003 regular season. Edwards had 145 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 33 carries in a Truckee comeback win.
“They did better than most,” Jund said.
In that game, the Wolverines stormed back from a 15-6 halftime deficit. Down by one, the score 21-20, quarterback Paul Tierney connected with Jamie Maehler on a long touchdown pass to put Truckee ahead in the final minutes of the game.
“They came out and seemed to make plays at the critical times,” said Jund, in his sixth season (37-19) at the helm for the Spartans. Just like Truckee’s defense will be gunning for Edwards, Tierney and Maehler are at the top of the Spartans’ defensive plans.
“It’s definitely something we have to contain, but I don’t know if you can stop it entirely,” Jund said. Tierney has thrown 5 touchdowns and no interceptions and has 23 completions for 353 yards. Maehler has six catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns and 103 yards rushing.
But Truckee’s offense couldn’t be farther away from Spring Creek’s on the one-dimensional spectrum. Five different Wolverines backs have rushed for a touchdown, and four different receivers have been on the receiving end of Tierney’s five scoring passes. Shaffer’s offensive smorgasbord board is by design, he said.
“Offensively, we have enough weapons that wherever we find the weak link in their armor, we can get to them,” said Shaffer, who has 76 victories in nine years at Truckee. “We’re trying to make this as un-one-dimensional as possible, so that no one can key in on one person and stop our offense.”
Spreading the ball around has become the Wolverines’ forte, no different from last year. Maehler had 60 catches, but four other receivers caught 10 or more passes, and Truckee used two feature backs that combined for nearly 1,400 yards.
To combat this offensive parity, Jund said proper defensive alignment is key, but the strength of the Spartans defense is its linebacker crew.
“They do a good job of running to the football and making tackles,” Shaffer said. “They put a lot of guys in the box and kind of dare you to throw.”
To Truckee’s advantage, Edwards plays both ways. He will be one of those trying to disrupt the Truckee offense from his outside linebacker position.
“He’s a very smart kid over there,” Shaffer said. “He returned an interception against Fernley last week for a touchdown, and he’s a good tackler. He’s going to come to play for 48 minutes, that’s for sure.”
Truckee actually caught a break in the schedule, as Spring Creek will travel to Truckee’s Surprise Stadium for the second year in a row.
Every four years, there is a new alignment in the NIAA schedules, but Shaffer doesn’t buy into the homefield advantage theory.
“Elevation-wise we’re both the same height, temperatures are about the same, and they travel the night before and (and get plenty of) sleep,” he said. “They’re used to traveling.”
“We have a big-time challenge ahead of us,” Jund said. “To be a great team, you have to be able to win regardless of where you’re playing.”
After Greater Nevada’s second leading rusher Isaac Porter ran up and down the field on Truckee in the season opener, Truckee’s defense stuffed Sparks in a 52-0 shutout. Albeit, it was against a Sparks team that was visibly slow and intimidated against the Wolverines.
“That isn’t going to happen on Saturday,” Shaffer said. “We won’t see either one of those two words. They’ll be fired up and they’ll come (to play).”
To read Chuck Hildebrand’s Spring Creek/Truckee preview on Nevadaprep.com, visit http://www.nevadaprep.com/mainstory.shtml.
“It will be a lot of fun for both of our football teams to play against probably the best opponent we may face all year in league. This is almost like a preview for the playoffs, or who knows, maybe even the state (championship) game at Sam Boyd Stadium (in Las Vegas).”