It’s no secret that special teams get overlooked at times.
With a speedy and dynamic offense putting the scoreboard to good use and a defense so intoxicating that someone is still trying to find the cure, special teams are where everything begins.
From the opening kickoff, a team’s fate could come down to those extra five yards from the return or a crucial blocked field goal to seal the game. For the Greenwave this season, special teams have developed into a strong and necessary pillar of the team’s state championship run.
“The thing that we took is it’s a unit,” said Fallon assistant coach Ryan McCormick, who played special teams at Carroll College. “I try and get that team excited. What we used to do up at Carroll is the kickoff team would go nuts. It’s just a crazy 60-yard blitz and coming to try to take their head off. You have to get them before they get you. I have a soft spot in my heart for the special teams because I did a lot of it.”
While Fallon didn’t record a touchdown from the return game last year, relocating the right people into the right position was all that it took to make 2013 a nightmare for the opposition.
Between Trent Tarner and Cameron Matzen returning kickoffs and punts, the Greenwave has put up solid numbers by helping the offense work off good field position.
But it starts with the blockers, who tend to get overlooked as well.
“We give them glory off the field. Without them, Matzen wouldn’t be anywhere; he needs them,” Fallon assistant coach Trevor de Braga said. “They open up the holes for him and he hits them hard. I couldn’t name one guy who hasn’t been great. Every week, everyone’s stepped up.”
Tarner didn’t have a kickoff returned for a touchdown until his 96-yarder on the opening kickoff against Moapa Valley on Saturday. The senior return specialist has been a catalyst, returning eight kickoffs for 286 yards, averaging almost 38 yards a return. His sophomore counterpart, Matzen, has returned six for 152 yards with his longest being 69 yards.
“It’s huge. A team’s nothing without their blockers,” Matzen said of his help.
Matzen has also been deadly on punt returns, begging the question of why teams still kick to him this late in the season. Matzen has returned seven punts for touchdowns and averages 27.68 yards per return with his longest being 77 yards.
“We scored as many points on special teams as everything else. It’s not even that. We score just as much on special teams, defense and offense equally,” said Justin Hatfield, who’s been a key blocker on the unit. “Our special teams is what turns the game sometimes. Even if our blocking scheme gets broken apart and we have to kind of try something, it’s amazing how quickly our team can find out where our runner is and loop around and pick somebody up.”
But the return game is only half the battle.
The Greenwave have been dominant on kickoffs, punts and field goals and PATs this season.
Bradlee Stands, taking over for Beau Marshall, has recorded 26 kickoffs for 1,248 yards, including one touchback. Before his season ended due to illness, Marshall recorded eight touchbacks and cleared the 2,000-yard mark.
The punting scheme has been just as impressive with Justin Hatfield booming kicks deep behind enemy lines. Against Moapa Valley, Hatfield’s punt pinned the Pirates on their own 2-yard line. During the ensuing series, the defense returned an interception for a touchdown to seal the state semifinal win.
“That’s a huge punt. When they’re backed up like that on a great punt, that’s just huge,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “The returns get a lot of it but that punt team’s been solid. We don’t get great kicks sometimes but when we needed it, we got it.”
The kickoff and punt coverage has been stellar this season in not allowing any scoring. It’s become a battle of getting to the opponents first before they find away to run into the end zone.
“Everything I learned from college, I pretty much brought it over here,” said Fallon assistant coach Trevor de Braga, who played for Colorado Mesa. “We didn’t know what our kickoff scheme was going to be this year. We brought mine from Mesa and we’ve been using that.
“We just used our whole scheme. It’s a pretty simple kickoff. You just do your job and execute it, and do what you’re supposed to do every time.”