RENO — On the game’s biggest stage, the Fallon football team gave it away, literally.
The Greenwave committed a season-high eight turnovers as Faith Lutheran shutout Fallon, 17-0, in the Division I-A state championship game Saturday at Damonte Ranch.
It is the Crusaders’ first-ever title in football, while Fallon’s 35-year drought continues.
“Too many turnovers,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “You’re not going to beat a good football team with that many turnovers. They are a very, very good football team.”
The shutout, meanwhile, was Fallon’s first since a 48-0 loss to Carson in a 4A tilt in 2009. It was also the first time the Wave was blanked since being reclassified to the Division I-A.
“I think the kids responded well to the game plan,” Faith Lutheran coach Vernon Fox said. “They hunkered down and found a way to keep them out of there (the end zone).”
Fallon opened the game with an ominous start, or perhaps, it was foreshadowing. Quarterback Morgan Dirickson’s pass to Tyler Bagby on a bubble screen was ruled a lateral, and Faith Lutheran recovered at the Wave’s 30-yard line.
The teams traded possessions until Faith Lutheran broke through late in the first quarter. Running back Keenan Smith pounded home a 7-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
On Fallon’s next possession, though, another turnover set up the Crusaders at Fallon’s 5. Dirickson was sacked and stripped by Danny Otuwa at the 30, and John Molchon scooped up the ball and rumbled to the 5.
Smith, who had a game-high 162 yards, bullied his way through the defense for a 3-yard TD run and a 14-0 lead. It was all Faith Lutheran needed.
“Along with their great coaching, we didn’t help them out any by giving them the ball on the opening possession on the 30 and then again on the 6,” Dirickson said. “That’s unacceptable. You can’t expect to win ball games against really good teams by making dumb mistakes like that.”
Fallon picked up the pace on its ensuing drive, as the Wave marched 68 yards to the Crusaders’ 16 on the legs of running back Trent Tarner. He had runs of 41 and 11, while Dirickson connected with Cameron Matzen for 17 yards.
But darkness soon followed. On first down, Dirickson bobbled the snap out of the Pistol, throwing off the timing, and tried to hand off to Tarner. Tarner, though, was nearly past Dirickson when he got the ball, which then shot out of Tarner’s arms and into the waiting hands of the Crusaders’ defense.
Fallon’s lethal passing attack, meanwhile, was grounded. The Crusaders’ secondary held off the speedy duo of Matzen and Bagby and tallied four second-half interceptions.
Dirickson was picked off on the Wave’s second possession of the half and three times in the fourth quarter. He completed 6 of 20 passes for 68 yards.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Faith Lutheran,” Dirickson said. “They’re coached great. They had a great scheme coming out. They knew what they wanted to do. We were on our game but we didn’t execute in critical moments.”
Fallon’s fourth quarter was forgettable. In addition to the picks, Mazten coughed up a punt giving Faith Lutheran the ball at the Wave’s 38. Eight plays later, Trent Dolby kicked a 28-yard field goal with 8:43 remaining and sealing Fallon’s fate.
“I felt like if they had to go to the pass game, we just had to put pressure on that kid (Dirickson) and move him off of his spots,” Fox said. “Defensively, I couldn’t be more proud of the kids.”
Fallon’s defense, meanwhile, played tough and physical against a big offensive line. Faith Lutheran used Smith as a hammer all game as he carried the ball 26 times.
Running a power play with a pulling guard and two tight ends, the Crusaders were able to move the ball.
“Our O-line did a very good job of pushing,” Smith said. “I couldn’t do it without my O-line and we kept with the power because it was working.”
The Wave’s defense, though, never buckled and did not allow Faith Lutheran to muster many sustained drives. The Crusaders’ passing game picked up big plays to move the chains, but quarterback Jacob Deaville was sacked five times. Fallon’s Nathan Heck also recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
“Defense played well,” Hill said. “They played a lot of plays against a good, physical team. All the credit has got to go to them. They did a great great job with their game plan, their kids played well and they exectuted.”
Once stopped, though, the Crusaders’ special teams went to work.
A pair of punts pinned Fallon inside its own 5 twice and the return game from Matzen and Tarner was neutralized.
But as the turnovers mounted, the frustrations grew more visible. Fallon had to shy away from the run in an attempt to score quick and get back in the game.
Faith Lutheran, though, would not allow it.
Defensive back Vinny DeGeorge had two picks, while Trent Dolby and Mark Rubalcaba each had one.
“We’ve done something we haven’t done for 35 years,” Hill said. “It stings for these guys right now … down the road we can take a lot of pride from that. We are very proud with the season, for our school and our community.”