TRUCKEE, Calif. - The Vaqueros needed another stellar performance Saturday if they were to achieve what few thought they could at previously undefeated Truckee last month.
They didn't get it.
After drawing first blood with a 61-yard touchdown drive, visiting Fernley coughed up the ball three times in the first half, and the three-time defending state champs jumped all over the mistakes en route to a 47-13 win in the opening round of the Division I-A postseason.
"We like that result much better," said Truckee head coach Bob Shaffer, comparing the result to the previous meeting, a 7-0 Fernley win on Oct. 6 that snapped the Wolverines' 41-game unbeaten streak.
"They (the Vaqueros) played - not flawlessly, because they had a lot of big penalties too - but near flawlessly last time. And we couldn't do anything right," Shaffer continued. "This time our defense bent at times but didn't break, and our offense took advantage of some things they saw on film from the last time we played them."
The Wolverines, seeded No. 1 out of the North at 8-1, picked on the Fernley secondary in particular. Senior quarterback Erik Holmer was up to the task, as he put a number of deep balls on his receivers' hands and finished 10-of-17 for 215 yards, with five touchdown tosses and no interceptions.
His favorite target on the deep ball, senior Jake Pettit, caught three passes for 123 yards, with touchdown plays of 53 and 40 yards in the first half.
The Wolverines scored six unanswered touchdowns after Fernley's initial score. They led 20-7 after one quarter and 40-7 by the half.
"Too many turnovers," said Fernley head coach Chris Ward, summing up what went wrong for his team, which entered as a No. 4 seed at 6-2 in league. "It was the reverse of what happened last game. They turned it over to us (last game), and we turned it over to them (on Saturday). They are good, though. And we had breakdowns on defense."
Fernley's turnovers proved costly indeed. Each one led directly to a Truckee touchdown, and after the Vaqueros had seized the early momentum with their scoring drive to open the game, then forced a punt on Truckee's first possession.
But their troubles were just beginning. On the punt, Julian Aguirre managed to pick up an errant snap that skipped off the turf and barely kick it away as two Fernley defenders closed in on him. The short punt bounced in and out of the hands of Fernley's Jake Compau, and several Wolverines pounced on it at the Fernley 33-yard line.
Five plays later, Holmer hooked up with Tyler Griffin for a 6-yard touchdown pass. Beau Hogan and Salyas Conner blocked the PAT to leave the score 7-6, Fernley, midway through the first quarter.
Four plays into the Vaqueros' next possession, senior tight end Zak Pettit broke into the backfield and chased down quarterback Skylar Williams, who retreated and then fumbled when Pettit hit him.
Truckee recovered at the Fernley 10-yard line, then scored two plays later when Holmer hit Tyler Curtis with a short screen, and Curtis lowered his shoulder and plowed through a tackle at the goal line.
Fernley punted on its next possession before the Wolverines added a third touchdown of the first quarter. After driving from their own 26-yard line to the 47, Holmer spun a deep ball down field to Jake Pettit, who grabbed it in stride and took it the distance. Louden Smith kicked through the extra point, and Truckee led 20-7 with less than a minute left in the quarter.
The Vaqueros opened the second quarter with another turnover, this time when workhorse running back Paul Bustamante, who finished with a game-high 130 yards rushing on 34 carries, lost the ball in a pack of Truckee tacklers.
Truckee senior Javier Virrey found himself in the right place at the right time, as the ball bounced into his hands, and he sprinted 60 yards for another Truckee touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 26-7.
The Wolverines added two more touchdowns in the first half.
After forcing a Fernley three-and-out on the next possession, Holmer and Jake Pettit again connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass to complete a 73-yard drive.
Truckee benefitted from some good fortune on its final drive before the break, as Smith caught a pass in the end zone after Bustamante tipped it. Smith kicked the extra point, and Truckee led 40-7 with 26 seconds remaining.
The Vaqueros pieced together their best drive late in the third quarter into the fourth. They drove the ball 76 yards in 15 plays, capped by a 1-yard TD run by Williams. The kick missed as Fernley narrowed the lead to 40-13.
The Wolverines answered with a touchdown of their own after driving 55 yards. Following a personal foul on the Truckee coaching staff that resulted in a third-and-long from their own 45-yard line, Holmer again threw a bomb in the direction of Jake Pettit. The big senior used his speed to reach the pass before making a reaching grab that sent him tumbling with his forward momentum. He leapt to his feet and held the ball up to the overflowing Truckee crowd.
"I was pretty amazed, actually," he said of the catch.
Five plays later, Lance Bokinskie pounded the ball into the end zone with a hard run from 7 yards out. Thor Retzlaff kicked the extra point to extend the lead to the final margin with 6:41 remaining.
"It's nice," Jake Pettit said of the redemptive win, although he stressed that the Wolverines' goal was not to earn revenge, but rather to advance one step closer to their final goal of a fourth consecutive state championship. "We played really well in the first half. The second half we let them drive the ball on us, which was disappointing. We like to play all four quarters."
Truckee will now host second-seeded Cheyenne out of the Southern Division I-A in a state semifinal Saturday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m. Cheyenne (9-2 overall, 5-0 league) defeated Boulder City 30-23 in the first round.
In the other semifinal, top-seeded Moapa Valley from the South will host second-seeded Lowry from the North on Nov. 10.