Vikings travel to play winless Sparks
South Tahoe (1-7) at Sparks (0-7)
Friday, 7 p.m.
When the South Tahoe football team takes the field at Sparks Friday night, it will mark the first — and only — time this season the Vikings will face a team that has a worse record. The one-win Vikings face the winless Railroaders at 7 p.m., a matchup between two teams hungry for success that has been largely elusive this season.
“We can beat these guys — it’s a big opportunity,” Vikings lineman Matt Herring said.
South Tahoe has won its last two meetings against Sparks — the Vikings’ 33-7 win over the Railroaders last season was the only win for either team in 2013. Six of Sparks’ seven losses this season have come by 27 points or more — the only one by less was a 14-6 defeat at Truckee on Oct. 4.
“They have a lot of the same problems that we do — they don’t have a lot of players and they don’t have the size that other teams do, but they have a lot of talent,” Vikings lineman Luke Garratt said. “They’re going to be thinking they’re just like us — and they want to get their first win.
“We have to hit them before they hit us — we have to come out firing and shut them down.”
The Vikings enter Friday night’s game missing a pair of key starters due to injuries sustained last week against Elko — receiver/nose tackle Brandon Erickson and defensive back Quinton Ritter. Receiver Corey McCarthy and tight end Stone Merkley will fill Erickson’s role offensively, and the nose tackle position will be taken over by multiple players that have been auditioning for the part in practices this week.
“We’re past survival now — this is about winning games. We want to win,” Hennessee said.
South Tahoe quarterback Mason Cain needs only 50 yards to reach the 2,000-yard plateau for the season, and the Div. I-A Northern League’s leading passer has thrown six touchdowns without an interception in the last three games. Even without Erickson, the Vikings passing attack features two of the league’s top four receivers — seniors Kirby David (708 yards, seven touchdowns) and Will Mori (468 yards, one TD).
On the ground, South Tahoe will again look to establish its rushing game after a subpar showing against Elko. Vikings’ backs ran for 25 yards on 13 carries last week, and were often hit before they could get back to the line of scrimmage.
“The offensive line has to pick it up and give Dylan (Gardner) some room,” Herring said.
Defensively, the Vikings have spent the week preparing to stop the Wing-T look they have seen from Sparks on film. That was also the case last season, when the Railroaders went to an empty set after only a few snaps — Hennessee said South Tahoe’s defense needs to be prepared for everything Friday night.
“We’re planning on fake everything,” Hennessee said.
South Tahoe’s loss last Friday refocused the team following its first win of the season. This week, Vikings’ practices have been more engaging as they look to add to their win total.
“Last week we thought back on the win instead of thinking forward to Elko,” Herring said. “This week, we’re locked in, we’re focused, we’re doing our assignments and we’re flying around.”
The Vikings want to end their 2014 season on a winning note — and it starts Friday night. A win at Sparks would allow South Tahoe to eclipse its win total from last season in advance of its season finale against Truckee on Oct. 31.
“It’s important — we want to finish the last two weeks successfully,” Hennessee said. “We’ve gathered some goals as a team — some things that we feel we can do that other people haven’t done in the past — and we’re focused on that.”