So, I cheated this year.
The two previous years I wrote this column in July. This year, I waited until the week before the season started. Oops.
A couple factors dictated why I wrote this piece so early in the past. One, I was confident (well, kind of) in the predictions. And two, I was new to the glamorous life as the Sparks Tribune Sports Editor and occasionally struggled to fill pages during the slow summer months.
I can already hear it. ‘Why the wait this year then, lazy?’ Like I said, I cheated. I wanted to talk to the Northern Nevada coaches before I felt comfortable making my premature proclamations for the Reed, Spanish Springs and Sparks football programs.
I am, after all, 6-for-6 on these prognostications. I owe it to you, the reader, and myself, to make it 9-for-9. Plus, it would be fun to tweet the link out in November, if I bat 1.000 again.
Last year, I said Reed would take a 13-0 record to the state tournament. It did. I claimed Spanish Springs would get back into the postseason after missing the dance in 2014. The Cougs finished fourth in the High Desert League, playing Carson in the regional quarterfinals. And finally, I forecasted Sparks would win multiple games after winning once in 2014 to snap a skid that spanned three seasons. The Railroaders won three times, and should have won at least a fourth.
In 2014, I predicted Reed would win the regional title. Bold, I know. The Raiders are shooting for their sixth straight regional title this fall. I wrote that Spanish Springs would miss the postseason. I got some grief for that one, but I wasn’t incorrect. And I said the Railroaders would get into the win column for the first time in multiple season. They waited until their final game of the season to top Wooster.
Now that I’ve boasted my way through 300-plus words, it would only make sense that I go 0-for-3 this year. That’s not going to stop me from taking a few stabs at it.
1. Reed will lose multiple regular season games this year
Raider fans have become spoiled by this run of dominance, especially last year’s team that didn’t lose until it played that private school from Las Vegas.
So when Reed drops a couple non-league games this fall, I fear for the ‘the sky is falling!’ hyperbole. There are far worse happenings than losing some non-league football contests.
The loss of several dominant players is part of the reason the Raiders aren’t going undefeated again. The schedule is maybe the largest factor.
Ernie Howren’s bunch opens the season at Clayton Valley Charter (Concord, Calif.), a legit California power (state runners up the last two years) in maybe the best atmosphere the team will ever play in.
After playing Carson, in Carson, in week three, Reed again hosts Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills, Calif.). The Raiders needed all four quarters to sneak past the Trojans last year.
2. Spanish Springs will finish third in HDL
This one will likely be decided early.
McQueen laid claim to the HDL No. 3 seed last year (fourth in 2014, second in 2013) behind Reed and Reno. Jim Snelling’s squad again figures to have the inside track to that spot. The Cougars play the Lancers Sept. 30 in both team’s league opener.
If Spanish Springs can win that game, the schedule gives the Cougs a chance to start 3-0, with ensuing games against North Valleys and Hug.
The Cougars had all kinds of problems slowing McQueen’s offense in last season’s loss. The Lancers lost some explosive weapons and Spanish Springs should be improved offensively this year to keep up.
3. Sparks will make the playoffs
Hear me out.
Sparks returns one of the most talented running back tandems in the 3A North in Nick Van Patten and Hunter O’Meara. Line play is important at the prep level. But talent at the skill positions can occasionally take precedence. Sparks has that.
After winning once in 2014 and three times in 2015, the program certainly feels to be on a growth curve. Forty-four players will suit up on the varsity squad this year. Last year, the number was 37. Two years ago, it was 32.
Finally, the 3A North playoff format is expanding to six teams this fall. That means the Railroaders need to edge out just four teams.
Sparks went 2-7 in league play last year. It will likely have to win two more games (4-5) to get into the sixth spot. There is an outside chance 3-6 will do the trick.
Nathan can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His weekly column, ‘Shoup Shots,’ runs in the hard copy of the Sparks Tribune every Tuesday morning.