ELKO – For the first time since 1991, the Elko football team will look to avenge a loss to Sparks.
Last season, the Railroaders defeated the Indians for the first time since 1990, a taste the Indians want to spit out of their mouths and a memory they’d like to put behind them.
In the 24-13 loss, each of Elko’s two scores came on kick returns by graduated Gavin Byington – taking an 87-yard gasher just before halftime and now-senior Cooper Jones racing 97 yards on the opening kick of the third period.
Other than those two plays, the night was dreadful for the Indians – especially offensively.
Sparks outgained Elko by 225 yards with 329 total yards (229 rushing, 100 passing) – the Indians barely eclipsing 100 yards of total offense with 104 (82 rushing, 22 passing) on 39 offensive plays.
The Railroaders owned the time of possession 29:41 to 18:19, Sparks snapping 70 plays of offense.
“I hate the “P” word, but our kids are playing with a lot of pride. I thought the coolest play of the game last week was when Landon Dente ran clear across the field to tackle a kid on the last play when we were up 33-7,” said Elko coach Luke Sellers. “That took guts and showed a lot of hustle. I was excited on that one and ran out to give him a high-five. They don’t want to give up anything, so hopefully, that will continue.”
As for the 2018 Sparks team, the Railroaders have started league play of the Division 3A North with a 2-1 record, opening with a 35-22 loss at Lowry after falling behind 21-0 – bouncing back with a 29-6 win against South Tahoe and defeating Dayton by a final score of 41-15.
“Sparks is a pretty good football team. They execute well, and everything they do is at 100 mph. They play hard,” Sellers said. “We’re going to have to bring our big-boy pants. This is not the Sparks teams of old. This group has played together since junior league and stuck it out, and that plays a lot into their success.”
Sellers said the Railroaders don’t run an absurd amount of plays, but Sparks gives defenses a lot of different looks.
“They have a lot of formations: single-wing, spread, they’ve gone into the wildcat. They primarily line up in shotgun, but they make it look like sweep and will run counter and trap,” Sellers said. “They threw the ball everywhere in their preseason game against Douglas, were pretty balanced against Lowry, but they ran it a ton and threw very little in the last two games.”
As per the norm, the Indians must the stop the run first – namely the 3A North leading rusher, junior quarterback Tyler Green.
Green has racked up 377 yards on 54 carries, scoring five touchdowns on the ground.
Elko senior Cooper Jones is second in the league with 354 rushing yards, averaging better than a first down per each of his 31 carries, taking four totes to the end zone with his legs.
In the passing game, Green has completed 51 percent of his passes for 396 yards and five touchdowns – equaling the number with five interceptions.
“He’s shifty, their primary runner. He can definitely finish downhill too, but he’s more elusive than the huge quarterback they had last year,” Sellers said.
Green is aided in the backfield by senior fullback Aleki Po’oi, who has rushed for 238 yards and two scores on 35 carries.
“I think he (Po’oi) is their best all-around football player. He’s a load to bring down,” Sellers said. “He goes both ways, and he’s a tough kid.”
Po’oi also leads the defense with 24 tackles.
Used as a dual weapon, senior Zachary Mahoney has carried the football only six times – taking two rushes for touchdowns – averaging 28 yards per touch on his way to 168 rushing yards.
“They run some fly sweep and jet sweep with him, so they have that in their offense too,” Sellers said.
In the passing game, Green’s favorite target has proven to be senior James Renfrow.
He leads Sparks with 12 catches, 196 receiving yards and is tied with senior Andrew Thompson (six catches for 131 yards) with two touchdown grabs.
Renfrow is also dangerous on special teams and defense, already taking a 95-yard kick return to the house and recovering two fumbles.
Elko will hope to continue its recent offensive prominence and tally more points and yards than in the last meeting against the Railroaders.
The Indians posted 463 yards of total offense last week against North Valleys, rushing for 350 yards – including two 100-yard-plus rushers in junior Colby Tiner (20 carries, 136 yards and a TD) and Jones (11 carries, 107 yards).
Senior quarterback Carter Alvarado was efficient, finishing 5-for-6 for 113 yards and a touchdown.
“The passing game took a couple weeks to come around with our protection, but Carter has played very well. I’d like to use that more if we are efficient with it,” Sellers said. “He’s athletic enough to improvise when he has to, and he has been making good decisions with the football.”
The Indians hope to remain as one of two unbeaten teams in the Division 3A North and take care of business against Sparks at 7 p.m. Friday, at Warrior Field.
“We are going to have to block, tackle and take care of the football,” Sellers said.