BEHIND THE PLATE: Fallon’s quest to state glory ends Saturday
November 21, 2013
Through all the pain and suffering the Greenwave football program had endured since being reclassified to the state's largest division 20 years ago, a sign of hope filled the skies three years ago.
Fallon started playing against like-sized schools for the first time since the AA days when Chris Klenakis guided the Greenwave to multiple playoff berths in the late 1980s.
But all the success and momentum slowly vanished into the sunset for two decades as Fallon struggled immensely against the bigger Reno-Carson City schools. Blowouts were expected. Scoring a touchdown was considered a success. Two wins in the season was something pretty special until Fallon's coaching staff re-evaluated the program's philosophy when Ray Holladay and Brooke Hill teamed up in 2004.
"There was a level of commitment that wasn't being achieved and we wanted to get back to that. I wanted to do it for the school," said Hill, whose team is one win away from winning the first state title in 35 years.
With Nate Manning at the helm of the offense and Tommy Diaz in the backfield, Fallon had the talent to compete with anyone in 2004. Josh Mauga and Lane Turley terrorized opposing offenses, and Rick Cornu was one of the state's best return specialists. The wins, though, didn't mirror what Fallon accomplished as a unit, giving the community hope that the football program was on a course destined for greatness.
"We had good athletes. We had a good team. We were competitive but lost quite a few close games," said Manning, a 2005 graduate who's now a third-class petty officer in the U.S. Navy. "We would play hard for three quarters of football but we always sort of found a way to lose, almost like we ran out of gas. In the 4A, we played teams with 70 guys on their roster and we were small with 40 or so. The 3A (Division I-A) is more of an equal playing field."
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It was frustrating not seeing the results on the scoreboard. But the spirit still ran high as the community continued to pack the stands.
The Greenwave stayed the course and when good news of leveling the playing field reached the Lahontan Valley in 2010, it re-energized thoughts of Fallon returning to success and domination.
"The fact that Brooke was able to take over and continue to build what he and I started back in 2009 is something special to me," said Holladay, who now coaches at Santa Fe High School in New Mexico. "I knew that the league was the best fit for Fallon and with the hard work of the coaches and the kids good things would happen."
The Greenwave didn't dominate the new league but found wins easier to come by and losing records were now a thing of the past. It was time to step on the gas and see what this program could do against Elko, Lowry, Fernley and Truckee. Fallon never wavered and it never faltered. Football was back to the success from the Klenakis era.
Youth football programs like the Sierra Youth Football League and Pop Warner continue to benefit the high school as a feeder system. This year's sophomore class won a string of titles in the SYFL, and that winning attitude has been paramount to helping Fallon reclaim the glory days.
James Richardson and Steve Moon try to match the SYFL program with the high school's scheme, making the transition easier. Fallon continues to send youth teams to the league championship, including Jeff Prinz's Renegades team that will battle for a title Saturday at noon at McQueen. Ralph Ratti's group also continues to promote Pop Warner.
"It's very exciting. Coach Hill and the staff have done an outstanding job," said Klenakis, who talks to his former quarterback-turned coach every week. "I give credit to the youth football coaches. Once you start winning at the younger level, it helps you win when you get into high school. I'm very excited for them."
And now Fallon needs one more win to cap off a memorable season that this town has been longing for so many years. Former players can't express how much this year's team has done for the school and community, as well as themselves and they embark on different journeys but still keep an eye out for the Greenwave.
"It definitely shows the hard work put in by the coaching staff and the talent of the team," said Ryan Sweeney, who graduated last season and is now playing at Cornell College (Division III). "I am also very glad that we finally beat Truckee. Now we just have to bring home that trophy."
The youngest de Braga still playing football, Frank, still remembers how close Fallon came two years ago when Morgan Dirickson's pass brushed off his fingertips in the end zone in a state semifinal loss to Truckee. He's anxious to see the Greenwave finish the job and already bought his plane ticket for the game.
"I was more nervous for their state semi game than my own game last Saturday," said de Braga, who finished his second season at Colorado Mesa. "Of course, I still am huge into the program and it felt good to see the Greenwave get over that hump finally. My senior year was the most devastating thing, so I am so pumped that the coaches and the kids are doing big things."
Fallon hasn't been in this position since 1978 and can add its name to the history books. Winning Saturday's game against Faith Lutheran could be the start of a dynasty similar to what Truckee did in the division and Fallon during the 1970s when the Greenwave won three-straight titles.
One former Greenwave player who overcame odds to win state in wrestling while lettering in football has a simple message for this year's team: just do your job and win.
"One thing I've learned is that when you make it to the finals of anything you have to win," said Riley Orozco, now an assistant wrestling coach at Cal-State Bakersfield. "You do not know when or if you'll ever get the chance to make it to the finals again. I hope this showing propels more students at CCHS to go out for more sports and creates a high energy vibe throughout the school."
This is as big as it gets and with the venue only an hour away, now's the time to show the town, region and state that Greenwave football is contagious.
"It's a home game for us. Regardless that we're going to Damonte Ranch, it's a home game for us," said longtime Fallon assistant Lalo Otuafi. "It's not in Vegas. It's here in Reno. That's a home game. I'm expecting all of Fallon to be there. I'm expecting Fallon people who live in Reno to be there. This is a big deal. It's been awhile. I expect people to come out. Whether we win or lose, I expect people to be there. This is big deal for us and a big deal for Fallon."
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.