SPARKS — Like Jay Gatsby reaching out toward the green light from his dock, Sparks saw a glimmer of hope that they could repeat the past of challenging Fallon on the gridiron.
But that mirage of beating the Greenwave back in the 4A quickly disappeared into the Sierra as the Fallon football team reminded the region that it’s the team to beat this season.
After stopping Sparks in the red zone on its second possession of the game, Fallon’s defense sparked a four-touchdown second quarter as the Greenwave manhandled the hosts, 47-6, Friday night.
Coupled with Elko’s 20-point home win over Lowry, Fallon (5-0) is the only undefeated team left in the Northern Division I-A with four games remaining. Sparks remained winless (0-5) and will travel to Lowry on Friday.
“This is a pretty good group about just focusing on the job at hand,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “We know that we got to go travel East next week to Spring Creek and they’re well coached and a pretty physical football team. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
After this week’s game against the Sparks, Fallon welcomes cross-county rival Fernley as the Vaqueros visit the Lahontan Valley for Homecoming next week. Fallon closes the season with Truckee on the road before hosting Lowry on Senior Night next month.
Fallon’s streak of never trailing was threatened in the first quarter when Sparks reached the 5 yard line. Penalties, miscues and a stingy defense backed the Railroaders 15 yards, forcing them to attempt a long field goal that sailed wide.
But a bad, 5-yard Fallon punt set up Sparks on Fallon’s 28-yard line.
Running the read-option, the Railroaders mixed quarterback runs and short passes before a third-down conversion placed the ball 5 yards away from the end zone. Jervontae Churchill was stopped for a 2-yard loss Zak Hix stalled on the next two plays. False start and illegal substitution penalties moved to ball back to the 16, setting up the failed field goal.
The rest of the half belonged to the Greenwave.
All but one drive took less than two plays to score in the first half as Fallon made another strong case for being the best team in the North. Creating long drives hasn’t been the norm for the Greenwave this season but Hill doesn’t view that as an area of concern when his team can put the game out of reach at halftime.
“We’re explosive. We know we’re fast and we’re going to get plays in that offense. If we keep scoring big plays all year long, we’ll be happy with that,” Hill said. “We know we’re going to have to churn out drives. Hopefully, we get those solid reps in the practice and in games. We’re scoring quickly but I think there are a lot of people who would love to have that capability. We’re definitely not going to start kneeling and not score.”
After going three-and-out in its first series, Fallon marched down the field in nine plays as quarterback Morgan Dirickson found Beau Marshall in the end zone for a 9-yard score with 14 seconds left in the first quarter. Dirickson, who completed 5 of 10 for 158 yards and three touchdowns, also connected with Tyler Bagby for a 47-yard gain to set up first-and-goal.
“It starts with preparation in the week. We had a decent week as a whole and we wanted to come out focused,” Dirickson said about gearing up for winless Sparks. “This year we’re a little bit younger, but we’re explosive.”
Watching the defense suffocate Sparks quarterback Mastor Sells for a 13-yard loss on the following series and forcing the home team to punt on fourth-and-31, sophomore Cameron Matzen’s 24 yard return gave Fallon good field position as it needed only two plays to make it a two-possession game. Trent Tarner scurried for a 17-yard gain on the first play and followed with a 7-yard touchdown run with 10:11 left in the half.
Defense continued to set the tone in the second quarter.
Dakota Schelling sacked Sells twice in the quarter, totaling 21 negative yards, while Richard Rogers had one sack for minus-4 and Justin Hatfield and Tarner each had a key tackle for a loss.
“We did real well,” Schelling said about the defensive effort. “This was real important because it puts us in good shape (for being the top seed in playoffs). We were trying not to look ahead but we need to focus on the next game and not get so wrapped up down the road.”
With the pass rush overwhelming the Railroaders, the pressure caved on Sells as Matzen picked him off on a third-and-18. Dirickson proceeded to make quick work of the Sparks secondary with a 51-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Matzen, giving Fallon a 21-0 lead with six minutes remaining.
“We got into a rhythm on offense,” Dirickson said. “We thought about coming out with a higher tempo.”
Fielding one of its more complete teams in recent memory, the special teams unit created another score.
Matzen dodged a couple Sparks defenders on a punt return before racing down the sideline for 62 yards with 2:49 left in the second quarter to give Fallon a four-touchdown lead. The defense picked up another turnover with Evan Bitter intercepting a lobbed pass at the Sparks 24. Two plays later, Tarner scored his second touchdown with a 15-yard run one minute before halftime.
“We just fell apart in the second quarter,” Sparks coach Rob Kittrell told the Sparks Daily Tribune. “They did a good job stretching us vertically and throwing the ball some and they had a couple big plays with the punt returns.”
Fallon scored twice in the third quarter beginning with the opening play when Tarner burst down the right sideline, shedding tackles for a 63-yard touchdown run to complete the hat trick. A 36-yard pass to Babgy on the next series gave Fallon a 47-0 lead before the second team entered for the remainder of the game. The 47-point margin invoked the running clock rule for the remainder of the game.
“We were definitely focused,” Tarner said. “We know we have some big games ahead and have to take it one game at a time. We’re feeling pretty good.”
Joe Pyle’s only pass attempt was an interception but the backup quarterback ran three times for 22 yards. Nathan Heck and Charles Fulks subbed in for Tarner in the fourth quarter with Heck leading the reserves with 35 yards rushing. Fulks carried the ball twice and Matzen had one run for 17 yards.
With the second-string defense getting reps for most of the second half, Fallon saw its first shutout of the season disappear late in the fourth quarter when Sells scored on a 1-yard run with 3:08 left in the game.
“We were better tonight,” Hill said about the second string. “We still gave up a touchdown late. We wanted to hold them. The more reps they get, the more depth we can create.”
Cedric Sanchez led the Railroaders in rushing with 40 yards on six carries and Churchill totaled 36 on six carries, too. Sells was ineffective in the air, completing 7 of 16 for 73 yards and two interceptions.