ELKO — How will a young team respond to its first road game?
For many of Elko’s football players, Friday night will serve as their first varsity contest away from Warrior Field.
In addition, the surprisingly-successful start for the Indians will perhaps mark the second straight season with a 4-0 beginning.
Although Sparks is 1-3 on the season and 0-2 in league play of the Division 3A North, Elko will have to correct mistakes it made in the second half of Friday’s 23-21 victory over North Valleys and continue the development, psyche and physical play of an inexperienced roster.
“Our kids did not quit Friday. They could have turned tail and ran,” said Elko coach Luke Sellers. “They flipped the page and kept playing. We did everything right except for one drive and two bad plays on defense. We need to continue watch film, learn from our mistakes, grow and improve.”
After building a 20-0 lead in the third quarter against North Valleys, Elko’s offense quit putting points on the board and the defense didn’t make clutch stops in crunch spots — the Panthers starting a hellacious comeback.
Following an Elko turnover, North Valleys went to the lead after 21-unanswered points — taking a one-point advantage with 4:04 remaining in the game.
The Indians — to their credit — never gave up.
On 4th-and-10, junior quarterback Jake Zeller heaved a shot down the right side of the field — the pass underthrown — junior tight end Brigg Johnson working back to the football for a game-saving grab over the defensive back for a 35-yard gain with 3:30 on the clock.
Despite reaching the 1-yard line, blocking miscues and a bad false-start penalty pushed the Indians back.
With 59 ticks remaining, the Indians placed their hopes on Zeller’s left foot — the boot splitting the uprights dead-center and lifting Elko to a two-point win.
“I thought we used up our conversion on the deep pass to Brigg,” Sellers said. “The ball was in the same place Jake missed a field goal from in the first quarter, but we trusted him to make the kick and he nailed it.”
As for Friday’s matchup in Sparks, the Railroaders — after blanking Division 4A program Hug by a final score of 34-0 in their season opener — have lost each of their last-three games, two coming against league opponents.
Sparks led Lowry 7-0 but was outscored 25-0 down the stretch at home on Aug. 30, the Railroaders following with a 30-13 road loss to South Tahoe.
Last week, the Railroader played a non-league road game at Paradise (California) and were throttled 49-0.
“Sparks isn’t very heavy in the junior class, but they have a bunch of seniors,” Sellers said.
The Railroaders have twice as many seniors (14) as they do juniors (seven).
“Right now, they’re rushing for 225 yards per game and throwing for around 100,” Sellers said. “They run a pistol version of what we run and go into a spread too. They want to run the football to open up the pass.”
Sparks’ best weapon on the ground has been sophomore Taylor Shephard, who leads the team in both carries and yards with 21 attempts for 233 — scoring one touchdown through three games of stats.
Junior Trezell Patterson has toted 12 times for 166 yards and a TD, senior quarterback Tyler Green (18 carries for 78 yards) and senior Cole Meacham (nine carries, 62 yards) adding a rushing score apiece.
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Through the air, Green’s favorite target has been Patterson — who has snagged 10 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown.
Green has completed 27-of-47 passes for 315 yards with two TDs and two picks.
Defensively, junior Oscar Gonzalez has intercepted a pass and junior Jasper Melvar has pounced on a fumble.
Through three games, Elko’s offense has been a balanced effort.
Senior running back Cameron Marvel leads the Indians with 312 rushing yards on 29 carries with a touchdown, junior Kaiden Cervantes topping the roster with four rushing TDs — picking up 219 yards on 47 totes.
Senior Rolando Acosta has punched two carries to paydirt and rushed for 157 yards on 22 attempts, junior Lincoln Ratliff giving Elko its fourth 100-plus-yard rusher with 111 yards on 18 carries and a TD.
Zeller has scored twice on the ground, Elko racking up 10 rushing scores as a team.
In the passing game, he has completed 9-for-17 for 148 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
On defense, Acosta tops the team with 20 tackles (17 solo) — followed by 17 stops from junior linebacker Darin Legrand.
Senior Nick Kinder has made 15 stuffs, Ratliff and Johnson each have 12 tackles to their credit and senior lineman Max Shurtz gives the Indians their sixth double-digit tackler with 10.
Marvel and junior Dillan Burden are tied for the team lead with one sack apiece.
Elko has forced eight turnovers, senior safety Kaden Garcia leading the Indians with two takeaways — both coming on INTs.
Zeller, Ratliff and Johnson have each picked off a pass — Johnson taking his for a 68-yard touchdown return.
Legrand, Shurtz and junior David Heard each have one fumble recovery.
Elko (3-0 overall, 2-0 in league) will look for its second straight 4-0 start in its first road game of the season, the Indians kicking off versus the Railroaders (1-3 overall, 0-2 in league) at 7 p.m. Friday, in Sparks.
The game will be broadcast over the radio on KELK, 95.9 FM and 1240 AM, or online at network1sports.com.
Following the contest, tune into the Silver State Scoreboard show with Lee Adams, TJ Sarbacker and Spencer Santti as they give a nightly recap of Division 1A through 4A football games — speaking with coaches and taking calls.