Two years ago, Fallon nearly erased a 35-year absence from winning the state championship, coming up short in a shutout loss to Faith Lutheran.
This time, however, is different and the Greenwave are not prepared to settle for another state title appearance. Brooke Hill’s squad wants to go out as winners. Fallon faces Moapa Valley on Saturday at noon for the Division I-A state championship in Reno.
And so did the 2013 team, but what went wrong? How is the 2015 Greenwave different? Will Fallon be able to snap the drought after watching the baseball and softball teams win titles last season?
Experience takes center stage for this year’s football team as a decent junk of this year’s 25-player senior class was playing as sophomores in the 2013 title game. Most of those sophomores were on varsity during the regular season, or were called up for the playoffs, and they made a difference.
“That team only had 12 seniors. Those were 12 quality seniors,” Hill said of the 2013 senior class. “We had some high quality players. That team in lot of ways was carried by the lowercase, the juniors and sophomores we brought in. I thought we overachieved with that group.”
While reaching the playoffs and the state championship are every team’s goals going into the season, Hill was surprised how far Fallon had come since the first game in the 2013 season. The defense was strong and the special teams surprised everyone as Fallon could score on any punt or kickoff return. It came that easy.
“That team really played over its head,” Hill said. “They really overachieved. They were a hard working group. The kids in this group expected to be here. To actually expect to be here and come here is a big thing. They want to finish. They want to finish this thing.”
This year’s Fallon is looking stronger and more efficient than two years ago. Credit those underclassmen and the experience of a senior class that more than doubles its predecessor. And it’s not just the experience of playing on the football team but on last spring’s state championship baseball team.
“To be able to handle pressure of big game, absolutely,” Hill said of an advantage with this year’s group. “The fact that those guys won that last year and the way they won it, it can only help us. If you Play in as many big games as you can, it can only help you.”
Quarterback Connor Richardson was brought up in 2013 but was a receiver last year. Evan and Aaron Bitter and Trae Workman battled for playing time and Braxton Hunter was dominant on special teams. Riley Williams played defense and led the team in tackles for loss and was third in tackle average. Sean Cordes was a staple on the front, as well.
“Definitely, more experience. We had a lot of sophomores on that team,” Richardson said of the defense of Fallon’s two state teams. “Offensively and defensively, we’re a better team. We just have to go game by game.”
Considering that season finale a learning experience, Fallon has demonstrated this year by going perfect in league for the second year in a row. The Greenwave didn’t have a close game for two months before Chaparral jumped out to an early lead last week.
While experience is one of Fallon’s forte, another difference between the two teams has been the offense’s ability to limit turnovers and sustain drives.
The 2013 Greenwave relied too much on the big play and it showed against Faith Lutheran in the title game when Fallon was down early. It needed to score quickly and instead, turnovers doomed the team. Fallon, however, has thrown half as many interceptions compared to two years ago as Richardson has been accurate with seven picks in 245 pass attempts.
“Offensively, we lived and died on the big play,” Hill said of 2013. “If you go back to that state championship team, we couldn’t drive it down.”
Sustaining drives on offense has helped this year’s team triumph in league play. Although the Greenwave haven’t short-circuited the scoreboard as much as two years ago, Hill’s group has grinded out drives that chew up the clock.
“With this team, we don’t have as many points on the board but we’ve been able to move it down methodically,” Hill said. “That team had so many returns for touchdowns, so many defensive scores. We had a lot of points scored that way. This team can get out there. They execute at a level I haven’t seen offensively.”
The defense, while strong, gave up more points than this year’s group. Fallon gave up 165 points two years ago before clamping down the past two years and coming into this weekend’s game with only 117 points surrendered. Fallon returned three linebackers, a defensive tackle, two defensive ends and a safety from last year, including several who have been on varsity since they were sophomores.
“They’ve seen a lot of downs, a lot of offenses,” Hill said. “We haven’t changed the scheme. They’re getting real proficient.
“In terms of points allowed and yardage given up, this is probably the best defense we’ve had.”