Two old-time rivals slugged it out and in the end the Fallon football team rallied for a 20-12 win over Fernley in the first round of the Northern Division I-A playoffs on Friday at the Edward Arciniega Complex.
Overcoming a fierce Vaqueros defense and swatting away a fourth-quarter gamble, Fallon rebounded from a humbling loss to Lowry last week to advance to the state semifinals for the second time in three years. They will host Moapa Valley at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“We gutted it out,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “Fernley played well. Much better than the last time we played them. That’s playoff football, you got to survive and advance.”
Fernley’s gamble came in the form of a fake punt by Kevin Montgomery with 6:49 left in the game. He took the snap and lofted a pass, but Aaron Bitter was able to tip the ball to give Fallon possession at Fernley’s 33.
Burning the clock with controlled runs up the middle by Trent Tarner, Tyler Bagby and Dylan Jabines, Fallon was able to overcome a fourth-and-goal at the 6.
Quarterback Morgan Dirickson, who saw Cameron Matzen slip and was able to hold onto the ball despite being ready to let the pass go, found Matzen as he popped up and floated away from Kelso for a 6-yard TD strike to give Fallon a 20-12 lead.
“I guess he must’ve slipped coming out of his cut … and by the grace of God it stuck in my hand,” Dirickson said of the throw.
Despite trailing most of the game, Fallon calmly stuck with its game plan, while Fernley attempted to score the upset. The Vaqueros struck first when quarterback Skylar Williams, who missed the 49-6 blowout several weeks ago, scored on a 2-yard run with 2:26 left in the first quarter.
He completed 11 of 31 passes for 114 yards and two interceptions.
The Vaqueros’ defense, however, bottled up Fallon’s high-flying attack throughout the first half until an interception swung momentum in the Wave’s favor.
Sophomore linebacker Evan Bitter picked off Williams with 43 seconds left in the half. Dirickson connected with Matzen for passes of 14 and 15 yards to put the Wave at Fernley’s 6-yard line with 4 seconds left. The next play, Dirickson hooked up with tight end Dakota Schelling, who slipped out into the flat, to tie the game at 6.
Dirickson completed 12 of 24 passes for 148 yards with three TDs and one interception.
“I think we stayed positive and didn’t collapse like we did last week,” he said. “I think mentally, we were better prepapred for a struggle.”
Despite the letdown, the Vaqueros answered with a TD of their own on their second drive of the second half. After a shanked punt to set up Fallon at the Vaqueros’ 29, Shane Kelso picked off Dirickson and rumbled 66 yards to the Wave’s 16.
Running back Erik Wilson muscled his way into the end zone from 11 yards out, but the two-point conversion failed leaving Fernley with a 12-6 lead. Wilson ran for 40 yards on 11 carries.
“We were over thinking it quite a bit,” Tarner said of Fernley’s first half offense. “We learned our lesson from last week of how not to give up, push forward and turn the page.”
But Fallon countered. Tarner broke off a 25-yard run and Dirickson lofted a 34-yard TD pass to Matzen, who bobbled and secured the ball while tip-toeing in the back of the end zone for the score and a 13-12 lead with 6:12 remaining. Matzen hauled in eight receptions for 118 yards and two TDs.
For about the next 16 minutes, both teams traded blows but could not sustain a drive. Fallon’s defense shut down Fernley’s option attack as varsity rookies stepped up.
Freshman T.J. Mauga and sophomores Talen Cordes, Trae Workman Aaron Bitter helped bottle up Williams and the running attack.
“They did very well,” Hill said. “That’s a talented group. We knew the could come up and give us a little bit of depth.”