Two programs and 69 combined years.
That is how long Fallon and Faith Lutheran have waited to claim a football state championship. In the first-ever matchup between the schools, either Fallon’s 35-year wait or Faith Lutheran’s 34-year drought, which spans the lifetime of the school, will come to an end on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno.
But an appearance in the state title game is not good enough for Fallon coach Brooke Hill and his club.
“We’re looking forward to winning the state title,” he said. “If we take care of what we’re supposed to do, we feel we have a good shot. We can’t be satisfied. The goal for us is to win it.”
Both teams are led by high-powered offenses and stingy defenses. And both have the capability of breaking open big plays on the special teams.
So, how do two seemingly even teams get an advantage? Well, limit penalties, turnovers and mental mistakes such as dropped passes.
“I think the last three weeks have been playoff games for us,” Hill said. “We have to focus on the next play. It’s hard because there is a lot of hype, and the kids deserve it. At 4:05 (p.m. Saturday), it’s a football game and we have to approach it like that.”
Not to mention, Fallon should have a decisive edge in fan support.
“It’s exciting,” Hill said. “We should pack it out at Damonte. There better be a lot more green and white than maroon and gold.“
On offense, the high-power Greenwave are led by quarterback Morgan Dirickson, who has completed 81 of 164 passes for 1,967 yards, 30 TDs and six interceptions. Flanking him, though, are a trio of weapons.
Running back Trent Tarner has amassed 1,294 yards and 19 TDs, while receivers Tyler Bagby (25 catches, 810 yards, nine TDs) and Cameron Matzen (30 catches, 774 yards, 15 TDs) provide a lethal combination on the outside.
“If you watch any amount of film, you’ll see they have weapons,” Faith Lutheran coach Vernon Fox said. “They are efficient on offense, and defensively they have some big guys up front.”
The Crusaders’ offense, meanwhile, is ignited by quarterback Jacob Deaville (94-162 for 1,692 yards, 12 TDs and five interceptions), running backs Keenan Smith (954 yards, 20 TDs), Fabian Lagudi (740 yards, 13 TDs) and big-play wideout Vinny DeGeorge (35 receptions, 960 yards, 10 TDs).
“Eventually we were able to settle into a balanced attack on offense,” Fox said. “We ask them to do a lot, and they adapted.”
“They are a power run team,” Hill added. “They use their play-action pretty well. We got to know where they are at all times.”
Defensively, Fallon sports a trio of linebackers who have made life difficult for opposing offenses. Inside are Dakota Schelling, who has recorded a team-high 99 tackles and is paired with Rylie Williams (72 tackles).
On the outside, Evan Bitter has tallied 76 tackles and a team-high five interceptions.
“We know they have not made it this far for a reason,” Fox added. “They have a talented team.”
Faith Lutheran, meanwhile, is powered on defense by linebackers Ben Flandemeyer and Danny Otuwa. The duo have tallied 132 and 124 tackles, respectively, and were pivotal in shutting down Lowry’s power running game in last week’s state semifinal.
“We’ve had great play from our linebackers,” Fox said. “Flandemeyer led the entire city in tackles and Danny Otuwa was outstanding. He was just all over the field. It’s a team full of leaders.”
Mark Rubalcaba leads the club with four interceptions in the regular season, while freshman Christian Marshall and Tyler Mahan had four and three interceptions, respectively.
“They are a pretty athletic team and similar to Lowry like that,” Hill said. “We are going to try and establish the run with Tarner, and if they try to take that away, we’re going to throw it and it’s going to be on them to stop us.”