It’s down to brass tacks for the Mineral County High School football team. While the team carried a 5-1 record into Friday’s game against Smith Valley

Tyshawn Bonner rushes Tanner DeBusk, quarterback for the Smith Valley Bulldogs. The Serpents’ defense held off the Bulldogs, coming up with several big sacks and tackles for a loss in the 50-6 victory. (C.W. Wilkinson photo)

It’s down to brass tacks for the Mineral County High School football team. While the team carried a 5-1 record into Friday’s game against Smith Valley. It was do or die for the Serpents — if it lost another game this season, the team’s playoff hopes will be dashed.

But the squad from Hawthorne rose to the challenge, handily defeating the Bulldogs, 50-6.

“We came out, we moved the ball pretty well, threw the ball well,” said coach Curt McElroy. “We started mixing up the run and pass and played pretty good.”

The Bulldogs received the opening kickoff.

The Smith Valley offense was unusual. The Bulldogs’ starting quarterback was out of the game, forcing it to change its offense at the last minute, McElroy said. On each play the quarterback lined up with one or two extra backs in the pistol formation, called the single T offense. On run plays, the ball was snapped directly to the runner.

“Their up-the-middle runs were probably their strongest runs,” said Victor Williams, senior fullback, tight end and defensive end. Williams, always a presence on defense, also ran for 32 yards on three touches.

At first it seemed the Bulldogs’ rushing game was going to be a match for the Serpents’ defense, but McElroy called a timeout, adjusted the defense, and a few plays later the Serpents were on offense.

“We started off a little slow on defense, but they bucked up, tightened it up,” he said.

On the Serpents first offensive play, they scored a long touchdown. The two point conversion was good, and the Serpents was up, 8-0.

The Bulldogs struck back with a long, time-consuming drive that was capped in a touchdown, and by the end of the first quarter, it was 8-6 Serpents.

From the second quarter on, the Serpents dominated the game. In the second quarter they scored 22 points, and led 30-6 at halftime.

The Serpents offense was split almost evenly between passing and rushing. Jared Keuhey completed 11 of 18 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Twice he threw to Brady Cardenas who had 90 yards and a touchdown. Collin Sanford had five catches for 194 yards and three touchdowns; and Tyshawn Bonner had four catches for 28 yards and a pair of two-point conversions.

Keuhey once again lead his team in rushing with 153 yards, a touchdown and a conversion on 13 carries.

Bonner carried four times for 33 yards and another conversion; Sanford ran five times for 13 yards and a touchdown; Cardenas added another 25 yards to his total; and Williams had three carries for 30 yards.

While the Serpents owned the scoreboard, the game was far from uncontested. The Bulldogs’ unconventional offense and ferocious running game were able to rack up 410 yards against the Serpents.

“They had a sweep where they would [snap the ball] to a guy, and they had two lead blockers. That one was a difficult one to stop, but we stopped it,” Williams said.

When the Bulldogs ran the play, Williams said he “just tried to contain [the runner], not let him get outside of me, just try and force him back inside where the rest of my team is.”

The Serpents were once again plagued by penalties. During the second half it seemed the Serpents was called for a penalty nearly every play; and several huge gains were negated.

There was some grumbling from the stands about a number of the penalties called against Mineral County, and McElroy said he was going to review the game film before he brought the fouls up with his team.

Despite the prevalence of penalties for the past few weeks, McElroy said he’s not focusing on the fouls.

“I’m concerned about the kids not playing aggressively; the kids not running to the ball; the kids not hitting,” he said. “That’s what I’m worried about. As long as they hit and they run to the ball, I’m not going to chew a kid out for being at the ball and making a great hit.”

With another win under their belt, the Serpents are looking forward to its season-ending road trip. It will next suit up on Saturday in South Lake Tahoe against the Whittell High Warriors. Like every other game this season, it’s do or die for the Serpents.

But, it’s not just wins that concern McElroy.

McElroy has said all season his goal is to have home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. To do so, the Virginia City Muckers, which handed the Serpents their only defeat this season, must lose a conference game. If the Muckers do, home field advantage will be chosen based on results against common foes.

The best way to come out ahead in that complex formula is to win big for the rest of the season.

“Right now we’re at the point where we’ve got to keep teams from scoring a lot of points, and we’ve got to score, and we’ve got to win the rest of our games in order to have an opportunity at home field advantage, let alone make the playoffs,” McElroy said. “I know there’s a little grumbling going on about me not playing everybody quite a bit, but […] what’s our goal? Our goal is to win the conference, to win the state championship.

“It would be cool to have the first home playoff game [in Hawthorne] since, what ’64? ’62?”