SPRING CREEK — Last year, the Spring Creek football team was talented but inexperienced.
This time around, the Spartans’ skill positions will be manned by seasoned players.
Following a 6-3 record during the regular season, Spring Creek wound up with the No. 5 seed for the 3A North regional playoffs — eliminated in the first round with a 33-13 road loss to No. 4 Fernley.
The defeat marked the second time the Spartans fell in Fernley, the Vaqueros finding the high side of a 28-21 contest on Oct. 5, 2018.
Despite graduating 15 seniors — the bulk of the losses coming on the offensive and defensive lines — the Spartans bring back a vast majority of their firepower.
“We are pretty good at the skill positions,” said Spring Creek coach Mike Tournahu.
Now a senior, Reed Westwood will be the Spartans’ featured tailback after 2nd-Team All-League selection in his junior campaign.
He finished third in the 3A North with 1,111 rushing yards, and no player packed the rock more – his 203 carries topping the league.
He tied for third in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Also a weapon in the passing game, Westwood caught 22 balls for 152 yards with two touchdowns.
Westwood tied for fourth in the 3A North with 14-total TDs.
Spring Creek’s most proficient pass catcher from last season will once again shag balls.
Senior Kyle Owsley led the Spartans in both receptions and receiving yards as a junior — posting 25 receptions for 370 yards — tying for the team high with two receiving touchdowns.
Owsley finished fifth in the 3A North in receiving yard and ranked sixth in the league in catches, his second and final receiving TD serving as the difference in Spring Creek’s 7-0 win on Oct. 19, 2018, in Elko.
He scored three touchdowns on the year, adding a 90-yard kick return to paydirt on Sept. 14, 2018, in Dayton.
Behind the new-look offensive line, senior quarterback Jeff Guthrie will look to take the next step in becoming an elite thrower of the football.
In 2018, Guthrie threw for 928 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions — completing 71 of 150 passes (47.3 percent).
Standing 6-foot-3-inches and weighing around 200 pounds, Guthrie used his frame to his advantage.
He was a punishing runner out of the pocket and between the tackles, finishing second on the roster with 409 rushing yards with eight touchdowns — matching his total of eight TD passes — accounting for 16 scores in all.
Senior Ethan Lulay’s return the football field is both a feel-good story and a godsend for the Spartans.
The talented and athletic do-it-all running back, safety and kicker’s season was cut short during his junior year — a crushing blow on a muffed punt return breaking his neck in a 41-12 home win against South Tahoe on Sept. 7, 2018 — pitting Spring Creek against an uphill climb for the remainder of the year in all three phases of the game.
In limited action, Lulay rushed for 184 yards on just 14 carries — averaging 13.1 yards per tote — scoring one touchdown.
Defensively, he tallied 21 tackles (11 solo) and recovered a fumble in 2-1/2 games.
While his absences from the offense and defense stung mightily, Lulay’s departure from kicker was also huge.
The Spartans often went for two-point conversions and risked missing PATs, the chance for field goals waving goodbye.
Lulay was 7-for-8 on PATS and 2-for-2 on field goals with a long of 27 yards, the Spartans finishing the rest of the season 11-for-15 on PATs and never attempted another field goal.
“I think Lulay will play some running back and also see time at tight end. His loss last year was a big one in a lot of areas,” Tournahu said.
Tournahu expects Lulay to split time at tight end with now-senior Ryan Thurston, who he said “played well for us after his injury.”
Playing in just seven of 10 games as a junior following a concussion, Thurston caught 13 passes for 203 yards with a touchdown.
Dace Draper, who played the “Will” linebacker as a junior, will man the weak side of Spring Creek’s 4-2-5 defense once again during his senior year.
He ranked ninth in the league and topped the roster in tackles with 92 stuffs last season, also forcing a fumble.
With the absence of Lulay in Spring Creek’s secondary at free safety, Thurston became both a run stopper and a pass defender at outside linebacker.
He ranked fifth in the league with a team-best three interceptions; all three coming against the Vaqueros.
Thurston collected two picks in the Oct. 5, 2018, meeting and added his final INT in the Spartans’ last game of the year in the Oct. 25, 2018, playoff loss.
Opposite of Lulay will be senior Devin Holmes at strong safety.
As a junior, Holmes notched 59 tackles and an interception — tying for the team high with eight pass breakups.
At cornerback, senior Tanner Chiquete tallied two picks as a junior — adding 38 tackles — Tournahu expecting the other corner position to be a battle or a position-by-committee between Owsley (57 tackles) and junior Kyler Lulay, with senior Joey MacDiarmid gaining reps at the position during his time on the junior varsity.
While the Spartans have plenty of experienced weapons to get the ball to, inexperienced lines will have to win the battles in the trenches.
“We only have three senior linemen,” Tournahu said. “Offensive line and defensive end are some of our question marks right now.”
Seniors Nick Ortega and Stettson Wells return to the team and expect to factor into playing the tackle and guard positions on offense and defensive tackle, while senior Jordan Andrews will see time at tackle on both sides of the pigskin — Andrews not playing during his junior year.
Ortega made 14 tackles in 2018, Wells finishing with six stops.
Tournahu expects major contributions from junior defensive tackle Evan Carlon.
“I’m excited about him. He was on the JV but practiced a lot with the varsity last year,” he said. “He’s strong and has a good work ethic. I think he can be one of the best linemen we have had in quite a few years.”
As with any team — especially to be successful — multiple players will have to step up in a horde of positions.
Wide receiver: Tournahu expects to receive contributions from seniors Brandon Yates and Brady Gackle and juniors Chase Milligan, Aiden Painter and Grant Brorby — Brorby also backing up Guthrie at quarterback.
Tight end: Complementing Ethan Lulay and Thurston, Tournahu said senior Ren Pacini will be “more of a blocking tight end” for the Spartans.
Mike linebacker: Tournahu’s strong-side backer will likely be junior Zach Simms, who tallied 18 tackles as a sophomore (10 solo) and made a crucial fourth-quarter interception in the Spartans’ 7-0 victory versus Elko on Oct. 19, 2018, at Warrior Field.
Linebacker: Junior Q Boyd “will help us on defense,” according to Tournahu.
Defensive Ends: To fill the voids at defensive end, Tournahu hopes juniors Jareyn Martinez and Tristin Thomsen can provide answers, stability and depth at the position.
Defensive tackle: Tournahu said junior Ethan Hansen “should be able to spell some kids there.”
Graduated offensive lineman and 2nd-Team All-League selection Max Shanks led a unit that allowed the Spartans to rush for 2,199 yards on 409 carries for a 5.4 average, Spring Creek punching in 26 rushing touchdowns.
Defensive lineman Hunter Buzzetti graduated after leading the Spartans with 4-1/2 sacks (eighth in the league), finishing the season with 55 tackles (nine for losses), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He led the way as a blocking fullback and rushed for 183 yards on 18 carries, including a 78-yard score.
Buzzetti tied for the team high with two receiving TDs, catching six passes for 63 yards.
Linebacker Cameron Grant closed his senior season with 51 stuffs and 35 tackles.
Chance Bailey graduated after a 43-tackle season (34 solo) with a forced fumble and a safety.
In his final season with the Spartans, cornerback Dorian Ard tied Holmes for the team high with eight pass deflections — making several key breakups in Spring Creek’s 7-0 win over Elko — finishing the season 23 tackles and one interception.
Defensively, graduated Peyton Bockness led the Spartans with two fumble recoveries and finished the year with 22 tackles (15 solo) and a sack.
Chipping in both sides of the line, graduated Cody Jenkins made 21 tackles and 1-1/2 sacks defensively.
Departed Brock Gilligan finished fourth on the team with 84 yards receiving on four catches, his 21-yard average per reception topping the roster.
As a junior, running back Marc Piazza toted the rock 32 times for 219 yards and punched to paydirt twice.
In the offseason, Piazza moved to Rigby, Idaho.
Wide receiver Dane Kelly did not graduate, but his senior year will be dashed due to a broken wrist that will require surgery.
As a junior, he caught six balls for 74 yards with a receiving touchdown.
Spring Creek will scrimmage on Saturday, in Battle Mountain.
The Spartans will kick off the season with test of all tests, hosting defending state champion Fallon at 7 p.m. Aug. 30, in Spring Creek.
Last year, the Greenwave dominated the season opener by a score of 48-6 on Aug. 24, 2018, in Fallon.