No football team this decade has been more successful in making the playoffs than the Greenwave.
Fallon, the defending state 3A champ, is the only team in the northern league to qualify for the playoffs every year since 2010 and the Greenwave will be counting on that experience to guide it through one of its most difficult challenges yet.
The No. 5 team in the 3A North, the Greenwave travels to Elko for a rematch with the Indians on Thursday in the first round of the regional playoffs. Fallon lost a triple overtime affair, 30-24, in Elko last month. The winner faces No. 1 Spring Creek next week while the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 6 Fernley and No. 3 South Tahoe will take on No. 2 Truckee. The regional title game will not be contested as the top two teams will be reseeded for state.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. and the game can be heard on KTUU (99.5) with Larry Barker calling the play-by-play and Randy Beeghley providing color commentary. The winner faces No. 1 Spring Creek next week with a trip to state on the line.
“We definitely try to embrace it,” Fallon senior quarterback Conner Nelson said about being the underdog this season. “Our goal’s still the same no matter what. We’re really clicking on all cylinders. The playoffs should be good.”
Since Nelson took over quarterback duties permanently last month in a loss at South Tahoe, the Greenwave offense has been on fire.
Fallon scored 30 points in the fourth quarter alone against the Vikings and had no less than 34 points in five of its last six games. Elko held Fallon to 12 points in regulation on Sept. 30 and forced the game into overtime on a kickoff return for a touchdown. Three overtime periods later, Elko won the pivotal contest.
“Our coaches do a great job every week of knowing the other team’s defense and what we need to execute offensively,” said Nelson, who’s thrown for 475 yards and six touchdowns and ran for 330 yards and five touchdowns. “We just execute the game plan they give us and it’s pretty easy to go from there.”
This week’s meeting, though, is poised to be different.
Two days after the Elko loss, Fallon coach Brooke Hill, his staff and team spent all of Monday’s practice dissecting every play of the game. It worked as Fallon went 2-1 to end the season and was one play away from upsetting Spring Creek, the top seed in the division.
“We expect a battle for sure. We’re looking up at them in the standings,” Hill said. “We felt like we gave some opportunities away. We have to play much better than the last time if we want to have a chance.”
And Fallon feels strongly about the offense.
Senior running back Cade Vercellotti leads the league with 157 yards per game and averages 7.1 yards per carry to go along with 23 touchdowns. Vercellotti improved on last year’s 1, 150 total rushing yards with 1,400 this year.
Throw in Brock Uptain, who can be dangerous on the ground and in the air, and receivers Dylan Ernst, Trey Rooks and Anthony Freeman, and Fallon has a plethora of weapons.
“I think we need to play with the confidence we had the last three weeks,” Hill said about facing Elko. “If we do that and execute, we should be OK. Obviously, we’re going to their place and they’ve earned the right. We’ve played with a little bit of confidence last few weeks. We’re one play away from being 3-0. We’ve been able to put up some points.”
While the offense has found its identity and balance in both the running and passing games, the defense has been strong, too.
Aside from the Spring Creek loss, Fallon hasn’t allowed more than 12 points in regulation since Sept. 16 against South Tahoe.
“We treat every game like it’s important. We just wanted to fine-tune our plays on offense and defense,” Fallon senior lineman TJ Mauga said. “I liked it when we hosted playoff games. I feel like we’re going in as underdogs. It doesn’t matter where we play. We’re going to give it our hardest.”
As Fallon has improved this month on both sides of the ball, Elko’s hit a rough stretch after facing the top three teams in the league. The Indians haven’t scored since a 33-6 win over Lowry on Oct. 7 as they were shut out by Spring Creek and South Tahoe by a combined score of 74-0.
Hill, though, feels that Elko is still a threat but it ultimately comes down to Fallon executing its game plan.
“You can throw the South Tahoe game out,” Hill said about the rain-pouring contest. “Spring Creek, they’re really, really good. I was surprised Spring Creek was able to shut them out. Defensively, they didn’t too bad of a job on them. They gave up a few big plays but so did we.”