MINDEN – Football conversations usually revolve around one-third of the game. The heroes of the day are usually the guys who throw the ball and run with it.
On Friday, Douglas won its homecoming game by excelling at the other two-thirds.
The Tigers did just enough on offense, but eventually beat No. 5 Spanish Springs, 23-13, thanks to defense and special teams. Douglas completely neutralized the Cougars’ running game in the nonleague contest and scored twice on special teams to get a welcome confidence-booster heading into the final month of Sierra League games.
“The game is in thirds, and people don’t pay enough attention to special teams,” Douglas coach Ernie Monfiletto said. “It’s something we emphasize all the time. We spend a lot of time on it, and it pays off.”
Douglas (2-5) punted on its first five possessions — including a fake punt that didn’t quite reach the first-down marker — and looked like it might never get anything going on a crisp homecoming night. But things soon turned around for the Tigers.
Trailing 7-0 with halftime looming, Douglas put together a drive that ended with what would be its only offensive touchdown all night. Bryce James found running back Cale Kynett with a short pass, and Kynett did the rest, rumbling 23 yards to the end zone for a 7-7 tie.
Not long after, the player James replaced at quarterback earlier this season made the game’s biggest play.
Douglas’ Nick Abreu took the second-half kickoff back 78 yards down the Tigers’ sideline to give Douglas its first lead and send a packed grandstand into a frenzy.
“I put all the trust in the world in my teammates, and I ended up breaking it (for a touchdown),” Abreu said.
For Spanish Springs (3-3), the trip south was mostly an exercise in frustration. The Cougars lost starting quarterback Jase Ryals to a first-half leg injury, were penalized with regularity and couldn’t generate much offense until the fourth quarter. The uneven performance was another chapter in what has been an up-and-down season for the Cougars.
“It’s the story of our season, almost,” Spanish Springs coach Eric Borja said. “We’re a roller coaster. We’re trying to fix that as a team and to understand how important it is to be consistent. We’re still learning.”
Spanish Springs was able to cut Douglas’ lead to 17-13 on a 1-yard plunge by Clay Moore with 1:20 left to play. But the Cougars’ onside-kick attempt went awry, with the Tigers’ Luke Houghton not only covering the kick but sprinting the other way for a 40-yard touchdown to push Douglas’ lead to 23-13 and essentially end the game.
“These kids have responded to what we’ve asked them to do,” Monfiletto said. “They could have shut it down at 1-5, and outside of (the program) nobody would have blamed them.”
Both defenses controlled most of the game. Spanish Springs gave up one big running play, but otherwise held five Douglas runners in check. The Tigers held the Cougars to less than 40 yards rushing and only gave up the bulk of their yards when Spanish Springs began passing on nearly every down in the last half of the fourth.
The teams combined for 16 punts, eight by each team. The Douglas defense also had a fourth-quarter interception and had three fourth-down stops.
DOUGLAS 23, SPANISH SPRINGS 13
SPECIAL, FOR SURE: Douglas scored twice on kickoff returns, giving the special teams two touchdowns to the offense’s one.
FIRE AWAY: Spanish Springs backup quarterback Ian Check dropped back 30 times, almost all coming with the Cougars trailing. He led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that got Spanish Springs to within 17-13.
NEXT UP: Douglas will host Galena in a Sierra League game Friday; Spanish Springs returns to High Desert League play Friday against McQueen.