Fallon punches ticket to 3A state championship
LVN Editor Emeritus
Both teams won their respective divisions, manhandled most of their opponents, posted undefeated league records, relied on key players and proudly displayed their green and white school colors.
Fallon, though, rose above the similarities and demolished the Virgin Valley Bulldogs during Saturday’s 3A football semifinals at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex
After defeating Virgin Valley 47-14 (9-2), Fallon (10-1) hosts Lahontan Valley rival Fernley (10-2) Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Carson High School. Fallon is seeking its second consecutive state title and third since 2015, something not accomplished since Greenwave Hall of Fame coach Tony Klenakis guided Fallon to three consecutive state titles in the mid-1970s.
Fernley, the Northern 3A second seed, held on Saturday for a 35-30 win against Cheyenne in Las Vegas. Just the week before, Fernley emerged from a hard-fought battle with Truckee to pull out a 35-28 decision with two second-half touchdowns.
The Wave and Bulldogs were comparable in the rushing department with Virgin Valley outgaining Fallon, 207 yards to 190. But the precise aerial assault made a major difference in giving Fallon the lopsided win. Overall, Fallon finished with 422 yards on offense compared to the visitors’ 265.
“We did a good job executing both sides of the game plan,” said Fallon coach Brooke Hill.
Hill said Virgin Valley had a big line, but Fallon’s defense contained the Bulldogs for the most part.
“They use their size to wear you out,” Hill added.
Both the Wave and Virgin Valley played a smackdown first quarter, but Fallon took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter on a 6-yard Brock Richardson run, and Elijah Jackson’s quarterback keeper for 4 yards.
Fallon’s offense rattled the Bulldogs’ secondary on the Greenwave’s first major drive of the game early in the second quarter.
Jackson, completed 11 of 19 passes for 232 yards, connected with Tommy McCormick for two pass plays that covered most of the field, 47-yard and 43-yard strikes, to move the ball to the 6-yard line. Richardson did the rest at the 10:53 mark and scored the game’s first touchdown. McCormick also caught another pass and finished the day with 111 yards receiving.
A shanked punt at the end of the Bulldogs’ next drive gave Fallon good field position at its 43. Jackson ran three straight running plays including one for 18 yards. Ezekiel Washington buried his head into a Virgin Valley defender for a key block. After a series of mistakes from both teams, Virgin Valley was called for a personal foul, and refs placed the ball on the Fallon 4. Jackson faked the ball to Richardson and took the ball across the goal line for Fallon’s second touchdown.
“They grind you hard,” Jackson said of the Bulldogs. “Once they settled in, they would come after me every play. Coach told me if I could break out of the pocket, I have room to run upfield.”
Jackson read the defense well, keeping the ball on several plays while faking to a running back. Richardson had an all-around game with 76 yards on the ground and five short receptions for 43 yards.
The defense, though, plunged a stake in the Bulldogs’ collective heart with two picks. A pair of defensive heroes changed the game’s momentum and tilted the advantage to the Greenwave before halftime. McCormick intercepted a Matt Hollingshed pass and ran it back 30 yards for a score with 43 seconds remaining before halftime.
After Virgin Valley received the kickoff, Hollingshed drilled his first pass into the arms of a waiting Avery Strasdin, who then tucked the ball in and used his long legs to outsprint the Bulldogs’ secondary for 66 yards.
“We had some different defensive schemes and gave them a different look,” Hill said.
Robertson booted the two extra points to remain perfect and was 5 of 6 for the game.
It was that defensive spirit that stopped the Bulldogs from scoring in the first quarter. After Fallon stopped the Bulldogs’ first drive, punter William Barnum boomed a kick that was downed inside the Fallon 15. The Wave took one step forward with a Jackson to Richardson swing pass for 11 yards, but on the next play, the Wave fumbled a pitch and recovered on their 5.
Two plays later, Shaw Lee kicked a 32-yard punt to the Bulldogs’ 44. His consistent kicking resulted in five punts for an average of 44.7 yards.
“They’re a pretty good football team,” Richardson said. “They’re the most physical team we have played all year.”
The defense frustrated Hollingshed, who hurried most of his passes. He completed 4 of 20 passes for 58 yards with his longest of 23 yards to Barnum. Richardson said the team rallied on defense after Dominyke Edwards rolled his ankle and spent most of the game on the sidelines.
“I’m hoping he will be back this week,” Richardson added.
Virgin Valley moved the ball effectively on the ground in the first quarter as running back Wyatt Delano powered his over the Fallon defense to the Greenwave 6. On four plays the Greenwave defense stuffed Delano for a 1-yard loss, a 1-yard gain, an incomplete pass and on fourth and goal from the 5, Delano came up short at the 2.
McCormick said the goal-line defense was crucial.
“We started slowly but figured them out,” he said. “We gained confidence and got the interceptions. That was huge … 28 to nothing was better than 14 to nothing.”
Hill said Fallon was able to make the big plays and stayed with the game plan.
Fallon did an effective job of mixing up its plays in the third quarter, resulting in a 43-yard pass play to Kenji Armbruster and a 17-yard run from McCormick.
The Wave took the opening kickoff to begin the second half. Jackson had a key pass to Armbruster for 31 yards, and Richardson snagged one for nine yards.
Virgin Valley broke into the scoring column with 4:19 left in the third quarter when Delano bulldozed into the end zone from the 15-yard line.
Fallon responded immediately. The Wave recovered an onside kick at its 35. Jackson carried the ball twice for 31 yards, and after an incomplete pass, he handed off to McCormick.
Each team scored a touchdown in the final quarter.
Richardson scored his second touchdown of the game on a long 73-yard run that snaked through the Bulldogs’ defense with 3 minutes into the final quarter.
Delano broke a few tackles in his 7-yard TD run with 5:10 left in the game. The Virgin Valley senior carried the ball 37 times for 203 yards, averaging 5.5 yards a carry.
“They have a good, strong running game,” McCormick said. “We knew if we could stop that, we would control the game.”