The game of the year has arrived.
In what most expected to be a battle of unbeaten teams is instead a battle for the Northern Division I-A league title and the No. 1 seed for next week’s playoffs.
The Lowry Buckaroos roll into Fallon for a 7 p.m. showdown today at the Edward Arciniega Complex against the hottest team in the North, if not the state.
“We just have to stay consistent with what we do,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “I think the fact they are a pretty mature group … they are going to come out ready to go.”
An Elko upset prevents an unbeaten tilt, but Lowry (7-1 league, 8-1 overall) and Fallon (8-0) renew their rivalry. And for Fallon, it is a chance to exact a little payback for two humbling losses to end last season.
As for how last season ended, Hill said those two games against Lowry has not been a topic of discussion.
“We haven’t talked about it at all,” he said. “It’s one of those things where that was last year’s team, and this is this year’s team. The approach has been a lot different.”
As for keeping emotions in check, especially for the younger players, Hill spoke with his seniors about how to keep a level head.
“They’ve gone 8-0 — the younger guys — and it’s really not that easy to do,” Hill said. “We have to seize the opportunity because there is no guarantee we’ll be there next year. For the seniors, it’s their last shot. All they have to do is look at last year. We were 7-0 and folded.”
Fallon’s blitzkrieg offense, meanwhile, has torched opponents all season and is averaging 53.3 points per game, and has not scored less than 47 points in any game. Their hard-nosed, speedy defense has held opponents to a paltry 11.4 points per game.
Quarterback Morgan Dirickson has spearheaded a lethal unit that is averaging 401.7 yards per game. Dirickson has come alive late in the season and leads the Northern DI-A with 1,646 yards, 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Flanking him, though, are a numerous weapons including running back Trent Tarner (1,071 yards, 18 TDs), wide receivers Tyler Bagby (22 receptions, 749 yards, eight TDs) and Cameron Matzen (18 catches, 523 yards, 10 TDs). Tarner had his best performance of the season last week in a 54-19 drubbing over Truckee, rushing for 281 yards and three TDs.
Lowry, meanwhile, sports a tough defense and is allowing 9.7 points per game. The Buckaroos are led by Donovan Brumm (79 tackles), Beau Billingsley (66 tackles) and Brandon Okuma (60 tackles).
“I think it goes to our quarterback (Dirickson) and a pretty good set of guys to get the ball to,” Hill said. “I’m sure they’re going to scheme to stop some stuff, but we have to make sure that when they do that, that we go with what is available.”
Lowry’s offense, meanwhile, has been nearly as explosive averaging 42.9 points per game.
Led by quarterback Calvin Connors (880 yards passing, 14 TDs, 781 rushing yards and 11 TDs), the Buckaroos are in position to force a three-way tie for first (along with Elko).
Connors’ wingmen are Billingsley (811 yards, six TDs, 19 receptions, 349 yards, four TDs) and Okuma (641 yards, seven TDs).
Fallon’s defense, though, counters with one of the toughest units in the league. Led by Dakota Schelling (63 tackles, six sacks), Justin Hatfield (52 tackles and seven sacks) and Rylie Williams (51 tackles), the Wave’s defense has punished opposing offenses.
“Obviously they can put up a lot of points,” Hill said, “but it all starts with the Connors kid. He’s able to break down your defense. I don’t think that you stop a kid like that. He’s going to get his plays, but you have to minimize his plays.”
As for Lowry’s power run game, Hill said Billingsley and Okuma are comparable to duo at Elko.
“They’re not real big, but hard runners and quick,” Hill said. “They’re pretty good up front too. They are definitely the best team we’ve played so far.”