In a back-and-forth, turnover plagued game, the Fallon football team clinched its first berth in the state championship game in 35 years.
The Greenwave advanced to Saturday’s 4:05 p.m. showdown against Faith Lutheran with a 34-24 victory over southern power Moapa Valley in the Division I-A state semifinals at the Edward Arciniega Complex. The title game will be at Damonte Ranch in Reno. Faith Lutheran (10-2) beat Lowry, 16-8, Saturday in Las Vegas.
“It’s great for the community and great for the kids,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “We’ve taken it to the level where we expect to be. It’s a good feeling.”
The win pits Fallon against the Crusaders in the Division I-A title game and a chance to make history. The Wave’s last title came in 1978, the last of three straight titles for Fallon.
Despite eight turnovers by Moapa Valley, the Pirates still had a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. Greenwave punter Justin Hatfield, though, pinned the Pirates at their own 3-yard line leaving Moapa Valley with a long field.
On the first play of the drive, however, Fallon linebacker Dakota Schelling broke free and pressured quarterback Zach Hymas, which resulted in an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown by Tyler Bagby with 2:59 left.
Hymas, meanwhile, struggled all game as he tossed six interceptions. He completed 13 of 26 passes for 205 yards and one TD.
Of the six picks, Cameron Matzen had four and Bagby two, while Trent Tarner and Nathan Heck each recovered fumbles.
“That’s the most disappointing thing to me, is the freebies we gave them,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “We didn’t make them earn it. You’ve got to give them credit, they made the plays. We beat ourselves a bit.”
Fallon, though, battled its own turnover issues in the first half, when quarterback Morgan Dirickson was picked off twice, Connor Richardson once at the end of the half and Matzen fumbled a punt.
“We knew we had some opportunities to make plays,” Hill said of the second half. “We just moved the chains. We forced some turnovers, I think, but we played some sound football in the second half.”
Fallon looked poised to blowout the Pirates from the opening kickoff. Tarner took the kick, which was directed away from Matzen, 98 yards down the left sideline for a TD to open the game.
“(It was a) Huge moral boost and then to score again quickly, you can see it in the other team’s faces,” Hatfield said. “Moapa was not used to being behind.”
Fallon’s second drive was stopped when Cole Mulcock picked off Dirickson and wrestled the ball away from the receiver. Dirickson, though, rebounded on the next drive with a quick pass to Matzen, who outran the Pirates defense for a 54-yard score and 14-0 lead. Matzen had a game-high eight catches for 168 yards.
But Moapa Valley’s veteran fought back. The Pirates cut the lead to 14-12 in the second quarter after Hymas and Hughes connected on a 15-yard pass and Jeremy Waite rumbled 49 yards for a TD.
“They are very well coached,” Hill said of the Pirates. “We learned a lot from that Lowry game about grinding things out.”
The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair as the clubs combined for three TDs in four minutes.
Dirickson hit Bagby from 11 yards out, while Hughes plowed in from the 3 to answer for Moapa Valley. Tarner, who was bottled up for most of the game, busted loose for a 64-yard TD run.
He finished with 80 yards on 18 carries and scored twice. Dirickson, meanwhile, completed 14 of 29 passes for 277 yards with a pair of TDs and two picks.
“Their scheme was great,” Dirickson said. “It wasn’t easy.”