By Kaleb Roedel
Early in the first quarter, on the Railroader’s second play from scrimmage, Nick Van Patten sliced through a hole and juked his way to a 21-yard gain.
It was sign of things to come.
Flashing a quick first step and breakaway speed from his first touch to this last, Van Patten racked up a staggering 254 total yards and four touchdowns to steer the Railroaders to a 42-14 non-league win over Fallon Friday night at “Tip” Whitehead Field.
“Nick Van Patten makes us look like good coaches when he goes fast — it’s that simple,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell said. “You give him space, get him through a hole … he’s good.”
The junior halfback was more than good Friday.
Van Patten gashed the Mustangs for 217 rushing yards on just eight attempts — yes, eight — for an average of 27 yards per carry. He galloped for touchdown runs of 68, 47 and 42 yards. Additionally, he had two catches for 37 yards, including a 30-yard score.
“It was definitely the line and everybody getting their blocks and everything,” Van Patten said. “I can’t do anything without the line, they were just a huge part of tonight’s win and all my carries — everybody’s carries, actually.”
The Railroaders’ dominance on the ground — they finished with 446 rushing yards — was enabled, in part, due to their early success through the air. When senior quarterback Sylis Sanchez hit Van Patten on a seam for a 30-yard TD with 1:16 left in the first quarter, it not only helped Sparks (2-2, 1-2) level the score at 8-8, it forced the Mustangs (2-2, 1-0) to recalibrate their defense.
“They were trying to stack the box on us,” Kittrell said. “So we really focused on getting Sylis comfortable throwing the ball, and he completed that pass and it was a game-changer. It was at that point they had to loosen up on the run a little bit.”
And the Railroaders took full advantage, grabbing the lead for good midway through the second quarter when Van Patten sped down the right sideline for a 47-yard touchdown. The score was setup by Sparks linebacker Danny Lopez who recovered a fumble on the Mustangs’ 47-yard line. Two snaps later, Van Patten was in the end zone.
Sparks swelled its lead to 21-8 lead heading into halftime following Sanchez’s 25-yard TD strike to John Anguiano with 3:37 to go in the half. Sanchez finished 3-for-6 for 62 yards.
“The second quarter, going into halftime, we felt like we got more momentum and we got more speed off the line, and we were just more comfortable,” Van Patten said.
The Railroaders didn’t waste any time keeping the pace in the second half. Sparks opened the frame with a draw play to Van Patten, who carved up field — going nearly untouched — for a 68-yard touchdown run to put Sparks up 28-8.
Van Patten polished off his show-stopping night 28 seconds into the fourth quarter with a 42-yard run to paydirt that widened the gap to 35-8. Rod Po’oi fueled the seven-play drive, moving the chains with 47 yards on his own, highlighted by a 30-yard rush up the gut. He finished with 152 yards on 17 carries.
Sanchez rounded out the rout on a 10-yard keeper he trotted across the goal line with 2:56 remaining.
In all, Sparks charted 508 yards while holding Pershing County to 318.
According to Kittrell, the victory is the Railroaders first home win in at least three years.
“That’s pretty special,” Van Patten said of snapping the home losing skid. “It brings a lot back to this school. It’s a special win tonight.
“We go home happy and everything, but tomorrow it’s all behind us and we have to work on next week.”