Eight years ago, Fallon was in a similar position.
Excitement surrounding the community. Elevated doses of school spirit flooding the campus.
For the first time since 2008, the Sparks football team is in the playoffs but the Railroaders’(No. 6, 4-5) first opponent is the Greenwave (No. 3, 7-2), one of the most experienced playoff teams in the state. Kickoff for tonight’s opening round of the 3A Northern region playoffs is 7 p.m. at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex. Larry Barker (play-by-play) and Randy Beeghly (color) will call the game on KTUU 99.5.
The winner travels to No. 2 Spring Creek Thursday with a state berth on the line. Playing on Saturday are No. 4 Truckee and No. 5 South Tahoe with the winner facing No. 1 Fernley next week.
Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students and $3 for seniors (62 older). Children 8 and under are free. Because it’s an NIAA event, school passes cannot be used. Only NIAA passes are accepted.
“There was some excitement involved with that,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill recalled when his team made the postseason in 2010. “(Sparks) is a really good quality football team. When you get to the playoffs, you throw the records out. They’re going to be fired up and ready to go. The team that plays better Friday night will be the one that walks off field a winner.”
Both teams met three weeks ago in Fallon on Senior Night when the Greenwave had a tough time containing Sparks in the first half before coasting to a 48-23 win.
“They came out ready to go. That was a fairly close game in the first half,” Hill said. “We put it away in the third quarter. They were just executing pretty well. They have a really good running back. We gave them a short field on an interception. They were able to put it in.”
Now that both teams are aware of each other, Hill stressed the importance of Fallon worrying about its own and letting the rest take care of itself. The only difference about tonight is one team’s season will be over.
“We don’t approach it differently. The kids know we’re in one-week seasons,” Hill said. “That’s how we look at it. We have to win four one-week seasons. We approach it the same way. It’s always been about consistency.”
Sparks snuck in last week with a thrilling 36-35 win over Wooster, giving the Railroaders an early playoff atmosphere as they head into Fallon tonight. Senior Jorge Dominguez is the team’s best offensive weapon as he rushed for 1,000 yards on 190 carries and 11 touchdowns while Senior Vashtish Patel leads the team at quarterback with 46 of 100 completions for 444 yards and a touchdown, but he’s thrown eight interceptions. Patel also ran for 630 yards and six touchdowns.
“They were very motivated to win it,” Hill said about Sparks’ win over Wooster. “In one year, (coach) Brad Rose has taken that team from really struggling to a playoff team. It reminds me of us when we started. There was a lot of excitement getting to playoffs for the first time.”
Fallon proved all season it’s a threat offensively with several weapons despite its starting quarterback and two lineman ending their season early because of injury. Junior Sean McCormick filled in at quarterback, completing 72 of 116 passes for 893 yards and 12 touchdowns, while sophomore Brock Richardson stepped in at running back when junior Reid Clyburn missed time due to injury. Clyburn will be inactive against Sparks. Richardson tallied 516 yards on 41 carries and six touchdowns at running back while McCormick was also lethal on the ground in the read-option attack with 841 rushing yards on 96 carries and 12 touchdowns.
Four receivers eclipsed the century mark in yards during the regular season, giving McCormick many options to attack in the air. Richardson leads the team with 655 yards on 38 receptions and eight touchdowns while senior Clayton Steelmon had 305 yards on 22 receptions and two scores. Senior Christian Nemeth nearly hit the 200-yard mark with 190 yards on 19 receptions and four touchdowns and sophomore Tommy McCormick is at 140 yards on 12 receptions and three touchdowns.
“We are making good strides,” Hill said about the offense. “Our kids have responded very, very well. We don’t feel like we’ve still played our best offensive game. They’ve been outstanding.”
Defensively, Fallon is in the top of the league.
Sean McCormick’s been the go-to in the secondary with 123 tackles and six interceptions while senior Trent Thorn has provided a presence at linebacker with 90 tackles this season. Seniors Jacob Weber and Russell Vershum, juniors Gabe Hardy, Brenden Larsen and Tristan Rodarte, and Tommy McCormick have been strong as well. Larsen leads the team in sacks with three, Weber is second best in interceptions with three and Tommy McCormick has recovered four fumbles.
“I think we can be better on the defensive side,” Hill said. “There’s been flashes where we’ve been pretty good. We have had some lapses on that. We have a really young defense. Virtually, almost everybody was brand new. Our goal is to strive for some consistency. I know better defensive performances are coming.”
In special teams, while the kicking game with senior Tallon Amezquita doing the PATs has been steady, Hill said the punt and kick coverage needs to improve. Fallon gave up a punt return for a touchdown last week against Lowry.
“We’ve revamped it for the playoffs. I expect to be much better going forward,” Hill said.