Sparks snaps 27-year skid against Elko behind dominant defensive effort
None of the players on the were alive the last time Sparks beat Elko. Not even close.
Before Friday night, the Railroaders’ last win over the Indians came 27 years ago. That streak is over.
Sparks defense held Elko to just four total first downs on its way to a 24-13 win in the home opener.
“I think it shows the direction we’re headed in,” first-year Sparks coach Brad Rose said. “It’s a great team victory. It’s exciting. We wanted our guys to play as a team and we’re getting it done.”
Sparks picked up its second straight win, improving to 2-2, 2-1 in the 3A North, and avenged a heart-breaking overtime road loss to the Indians last fall. Elko (2-1, 2-1) suffered its first loss of the year after posting consecutive shutout victories over Dayton (40-0) and Wooster (20-0).
The guests mustered just 82 yards of offense on 38 plays (2.2 yards/play) and moved the chains just once in the second half. They turned the ball over five times (one interception, two fumbles and two turnovers on downs).
“My defensive coordinator (Larry Cooper) is a genius,” Rose said. “And the guys who play on that side of the ball go hard for him every single day. It just shows in the result. I said at the beginning of the year that our defense was our strong point and that has held true.”
Elko’s two scores came on the last play of the first half and the first play of the second half, both on special teams. Gavin Byington took a kickoff to the house as the clocked reached triple zeroes in the second quarter, pulling the guests within 10-7. Then Cooper Jones took the opening kickoff of the second half 98 yards to put Elko up 13-10 (PAT failed).
Rose opted not to kick to either returner the rest of the game.
After forcing a Sparks punt with a three-point edge, Elko picked up its solo first down of the second half and reached Sparks 37-yard line with six minutes left in the third quarter. A fumbled handoff gave the ball back to the Railroaders and they took advantage, putting together consecutive 15-play and 13-play touchdown drives to end the nearly three-decade-long losing streak.
“(The fumble was a) huge swing in momentum play,” Rose said. “People think the spread is this quick, power, fast-pass game, but we can grind just as much as we can throw.”
Carlos Rodriguez capped the first lengthy scoring drive, one that lasted just short of five minutes, with a two-yard keeper to put Sparks up 16-13 (PAT failed) with 36 seconds left in the third quarter. It was his eighth touchdown in four games this season.
Senior quarterback Vashisth Patel finished off the second time-consuming drive with a one-yard keeper on fourth down, extending the lead to 24-13 (Rodriguez two-point conversion) with less than six minutes left.
Patel, an offensive lineman a season ago, played his best game of the season.
“He (Patel) is staring to get comfortable,” Rose said. “And that’s the big difference. Early on in the season, we were asking him to do a lot more than he probably needed to do. Now, he’s getting comfortable running the offense and he’s making plays when we need him to plays.”
Jorge Dominguez extend Sparks early lead to 10-0 with just 13 seconds left in the first half with a five-yard touchdown around the left side. The 10-play drive was set up by a Colby Bowman interception.
The two-possession lead vanished over the next 26 seconds as Elko scored consecutive special teams touchdowns sandwiched around the half.
“That’s where we still have some things to fix,” Rose said. “Guys kind of selling out and not really remembering their responsibilities. That’s something we’re still working on, that’s part of the process.”
Rodriguez scored the first points of the season against Elko when he concluded the opening drive of the game with a 32-yard field goal.
The schedule stiffens significantly next Friday as Sparks goes to Spring Creek (3-1, 3-0). With a victory, the Railroaders would eclipse last year’s win total and rattle off three straight for the first time winning the first three of the 2010 season. A 22-19 win at Spring Creek was included in that spurt.
Said Rose: “(We’ll enjoy this) tonight and tomorrow morning it’s on to those guys, who are probably the best in our division.”