Reno – For much of Friday night, Spanish Springs wanted to give McQueen a reason to celebrate on its homecoming. At least it appeared that way.
Five separate red zone trips resulted in zero points – three because of fumbles. Costly personal foul penalties either continued McQueen drives or put Spanish Springs’ offense behind the chains. A missed PAT early loomed large with the game tied 15-15 in the fourth quarter.
And still, the Cougars’ defense had a chance to win the league opener late. And it did.
The Lancers marched 63 yards to the Spanish Springs 6 with 15.9 seconds remaining, trailing 22-15. Quarterback Zach Ball threw a slant at the goal line to Jaydon Gold, the team’s best receiver.
Austin Cadenhead, Spanish Springs’ best receiver also playing defense, shaded to that side, snared the pass clean, and ran it 100 yards the other way as time expired to give Spanish Springs (3-2, 1-0) a pivotal 28-15 road win over McQueen (1-4, 0-1).
“I just read his (Ball’s) hips, jumped the route. Next thing I know, I’m in the end zone out of breath,” Cadenhead said. “I felt so unreal. It felt like a dream.”
The play provided some personal validation for Cadenhead, who saw his junior season end on the same field a year ago. Offensively, he caught seven passes for 111 yards.
His pick six capped a 20-0 run to close for the guests. Last week, the Cougars scored the final 29 to come back at beat Galena.
The run started with less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, trailing 15-8. Spanish Springs faced fourth and six from the 7 after struggling in the red zone all night. Korbin Marcum rolled to his right and dumped it off to Colton Allen in the flat. He won the race to the pylon. Gray Paholke’s PAT tied the game at 15.
Marcum shredded the McQueen defense all night, completing 29-of-40 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t turn the ball over once.
“You know what? He (Marcum) our senior leader,” third-year Spanish Springs coach Eric Borja said. “He has a lot of pressure on him. He’s expected to be perfect every night. That’s just the way it is and he understands that.”
The Cougars took over again at their own 16 with 7:48 left (after a short McQueen drive) and marched 86 yards on 12 plays to retake the lead, 22-15 with 2:50 remaining. Marcum again found Allen in the right flat, who again won the race to the pylon.
Allen finished with 109 yard and the two scores on 11 receptions.
A dead ball foul followed by a McQueen offside forced the meaningful PAT to be taken from 29 yards out. Paholke drilled it anyway to push the lead to seven.
“The unsportsmanlike (penalties) are things that emotions get in the way, but need to get addressed,” Borja said. “It’s about discipline and trying to get our kids to play with control.”
The dramatic finish was not foreshadowed early.
The Cougars took the opening drive 61 yards and grabbed a 6-0 lead (PAT failed) on a one-yard Gabby Ordaz dive. Ordaz finished with 85 yards and the touchdown on 22 carries.
McQueen managed four yards of offense on its two ensuing possessions, the latter resulting in a safety after the punt snap from the 12 was too low to handle.
Spanish Springs marched to the McQueen 10 both its drives following the Ordaz touchdown. Both ended with fumbles. Coughing the ball up was a problem in the win over Galena as well. Borja’s squad put the ball on the ground six times in the win over the Grizzlies.
“What happens is, it becomes kind of a mental thing now,” Borja said. “It’s not like we didn’t remedy it, or try to remedy it during practice.”
So instead of potentially being up 22-0, the second fumble gave the ball back to McQueen, down just 8-0. The Lancers went 90 yards on seven plays to creep within 8-7. The drive ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Joey Cox to Gold.
The score held though half (with Spanish Spring failing to score in the red zone twice more).
The Lancers took their first lead, 15-8, midway through the third quarter when Ball kept from a yard out and converted the two-point try through the air.
Spanish Springs and McQueen traded a pair of empty possessions before the Cougars scored the final 20.
Borja was an assistant at McQueen before taking over at Spanish Springs. He didn’t undersell the win’s significance.
“This is No. 1, no question,” he said. “Just because of what was at stake, opening league game. (It is) my third year, this was a big one for our program.”
The Cougars will look to win their third straight next Friday at North Valleys. The Panthers (0-5, 0-1) fell hard at home against Reed on Friday night, 58-0. It was the third straight week they failed to get on the board.