Viking ‘D’ aims to keep Sparks from flying
Saturday’s football opener gives both South Tahoe and Sparks their first shots at a new season – and the host Vikings are providing the live ammo.
That may be the best way to describe how the players on South Tahoe’s new high-speed, heat-seeking Sierra Swarm defense have practiced. The Viking defenders have the opportunity to make a loud statement Saturday about how their team could fare this year.
“Really, we’re trying to shore up all the stuff we’ve been working on,” said South Tahoe defensive coordinator Mike Makley, who runs the defense along with fellow assistant Chris Morgan. “We want to present a solid defense when we play Sparks.”
South Tahoe’s first chance to put its vaunted offense and revamped defense on the field comes at 1:30 p.m. Saturday when Sparks visits Viking country. Sparks and South Tahoe aren’t mirror images of each other, but both head coaches enter Saturday’s opener with similar concerns.
Sparks returns just two starters to its lines in two-way tackle Adam Seelye, a 6-1, 240-pounder, and Jason Molino, 6-1 and 220, to go along with tight end Greg Lexa when the Railroaders have the ball.
“It’s been going pretty good,” said Sparks head coach Rob Kittrell. “We’re going to be starting three juniors and two seniors on our offensive line. The juniors are really good kids, and they’ve done a good job.”
South Tahoe’s line needs may be more acute on offense than defense, as just one starter, senior guard Matt Humes, returns to the offensive line. Offensive coordinator Todd McIntyre called Humes a good role model for the four juniors who will join him on the line, along with 6-4, 230-pound tight end Garrett McIntyre, a sophomore. On defense, the Vikings have supplemented what experience it does have with youth.
Kittrell saw the tape of South Tahoe’s scrimmage Saturday with Wooster, and said Tahoe’s defensive line gets better penetration and is handling blocks better than last year.
Sparks lines up in the I formation and likes to run: between the tackles with fullback Chad Lexa, or outside with tailback Andy Johnson. Chad Lexa is the top returning rusher with 543 yards last year, but he has missed a week of practice and is day-to-day with a sprained ankle. If Chad Lexa isn’t able to go, junior Mike Depoali can step in, run the ball, and pave the way for Johnson. The Railroaders showed they can hit in a scrimmage against a bigger Reno team – now they’re trying to avoid miscues.
“This early in the season, we’re still making a lot of mistakes, obviously more than a coach would like,” Kittrell said.
For all the emphasis on defense this season, it’s hard to forget South Tahoe’s offense, which has the potential to be the most dangerous in the league. Senior quarterback Tim Sprinkles called Tuesday’s practice a turning point in the season for the offense. Kittrell credited South Tahoe head coach Tim Jaureguito with helping create a legion of smart quarterbacks.
Offensive coordinator Todd McIntyre said Sprinkles has done a good job of reading the defense, running the team and throwing, and junior halfback Jake Hurwitz is running well.
“I think we’re coming together,” he said. “I think we’re doing OK.”
Sprinkles can connect with his corps of dangerous receivers out of the pocket, make plays throwing on the run, or pick up yardage on the ground. Kittrell wants his defense to penetrate the pocket without losing containment.
“Before anything, we’ve got to try to keep Tim Sprinkles in the pocket,” Kittrell said. “Last year, he just killed us running the ball.”
Sparks has indicated it will run the same 4-3 base defense it did last year. If the defense plays the same schemes, Sprinkles already has a plan to pick it apart. Sparks didn’t cover the short flats aggressively last year, which gave Sprinkles opportunities for a swing pass to the backs. If Sparks runs the same cover and blitz packages it did last year, Sprinkles will look to exploit the matchup of speedy Hurwitz on Sparks’ middle linebacker.
“It’s pretty much off to the races with Jake, because he’s so fast,” Sprinkles said.
The biggest difference for both teams is a change in attitude. With Kittrell returning for his second year, Sparks is gaining stability. However, he’s looking for a mistake-free performance.
“We need to make everything perfect,” Kittrell said. “We’re going out, we bought our tux for the big dance, now we need to make sure it’s refined and ready to go. If we can be in the game with South Tahoe, that’d be a good measuring stick.”
The junior varsity game, at 10:30 a.m., will precede the varsity kickoff.
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