On the return road to state
ELKO – The No. 5 Fallon Greenwave were efficient enough on offense and pitched a shutout defensively Thursday night at Warrior Field against No. 4 Elko, ending the Indians’ season with a 21-0 blanking.
Fallon improved to 6-4 on the season, living to fight another day into the second round of the Division 3A North playoffs. The Indians’ season came to a close with their third straight scoreless game, falling to 6-4 on the season.
“Our kids executed the game plan obviously a little better on defensive side,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “We were more efficient offensively. We were able to get run and pass game going.”
With No. 6 Fernley at No. 3 South Tahoe today in the other first round game, the Greenwave will have to travel the same road on Friday and drive about 10 miles farther to take on the No. 1 Spartans in Spring Creek. At stake is one of two berths to state.
The game at 7 p.m. will mark a rematch of a wild, back-and-forth contest on Oct. 11, a battle which Spring Creek won 42-36 on a touchdown pass from senior quarterback Jon Jund to junior wide receiver Dakota Larson with three seconds remaining.
Hill said the team had a different approach in practice prior to the game. The playoff mentality that any game could be the last for 17 seniors and the experience from previous state runs helped against Elko.
“I think definitely having played in quite a few playoff games last few year, some of these guys got a lot of playoff experience,” Hill said. “They know how to approach it. You can’t approach it any differently. They had a good approach to it. In practice, they know it’s playoff time. There was a different kind of focus.”
Senior quarterback Conner Nelson accounted for all three of Fallon’s touchdowns and the defense posted its third shutout of the year after Elko won a triple-overtime affair earlier in the season.
“They tried to take Cade (Vercellotti) away,” Hill said about his senior running back being held to less than 100 yards rushing. “Some guys stepped up. It’s nice to get back to taking advantage of things they were giving us. And we made our PATs.”
Nelson ran for an 8-yard touchdown in the first quarter to go 7-0. Nelson connected with Vercellotti on a 21-yard pump fake touchdown pass on a third and 15 in the second quarter.
Nelson teamed with senior Brock Uptain for the third and final score, an 11-yard touchdown pass on second down with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Elko came within a yard from scoring late in the game but was stuffed on its final down to preserve the shutout.
The Indians’ offense moved down the field but the Greenwave defense was victorious throughout the night. Along with the goal-line stand to end the game, Fallon sacked Elko quarterback Eric Klekas in the red zone of Elko’s opening drive and forced the hosts to punt twice. Elko had two additional chances to score when an errant pass on third down could have led to a touchdown and points were taken off the board on another play after a holding call.
Friday’s regional game got off to a promising start for the Indians set up with good field position after a great kick return by freshman Colby Tiner to the40-yard line.
Senior quarterback Klekas threw a slant pass to sophomore Cooper Jones, Jones caught the ball near midfield between the Fallon linebackers and safeties and broke free for a big-gainer to the Fallon 24.
The Indians could not take advantage of a golden opportunity, stalling out on the drive.
Elko lined up for a fourth-down conversion from the 17-yard line, but Klekas could not get a pass off and was sacked – turning the ball over on downs.
Fallon methodically marched down the field, using a big first down on a screen pass to senior Uptain to Elko’s side of midfield at the 49.
The Greenwave used the legs of senior quarterback Nelson on multiple occasions to move the sticks, rolling one way then reversing field when he saw that Elko’s backside defense was not staying home.
Set up at the at eight-yard line, Nelson called his own number on a read keeper and knifed through the middle of the line and crossed the goal line with a flying leap.
After the extra point, Fallon grabbed a 7-0 lead with 4:30 remaining in the first quarter.
Elko went three-and-out on its second drive after an overthrown pass on third down as junior Gavin Byington found some space deep.
A Greenwave penalty killed their drive.
Elko nearly went the other way on a great jump by senior safety Josh Jonas, but he was unable to come down with the ball on a third-down screen on an errant pass that could have tied the game.
The Fallon punt only traveled 13 yards.
Elko took over on its own 43, but the Indians went three-and-out – trading bad punts and sending the kick just 12 yards down the field.
Fallon gained possession on their 45, but Elko senior Luis Salazar sacked Nelson for a big loss on second down.
The Indians held and forced a punt, but went three-and-out and kicked the ball right back.
Fallon took over on its 45-yard line with 8:58 remaining in the second quarter.
The Greenwave used solid runs by Nelson and senior Vercellotti to the Elko 17.
A near touchdown pass to Uptain fell incomplete when senior cornerback Angelo Jones hammered Uptain just as the ball arrived.
Facing 3rd-and-15 from the 21-yard line after a sack by senior Cade Lindquist and junior Antawn Valtierra, Fallon struck on a pump-and-go.
Nelson made a pump fake – an effective one – freeing up Vercellotti down the left sideline for the touchdown reception with 6:35 remaining in the half for the final points of the half.
From deep in their own territory with less than 20 seconds remaining in the second period, the Indians were a couple broken tackles away from getting on the board.
Elko went with consecutive tosses to Tiner, who nearly broke both runs to the house – picking up a first down to the 40-yard line and taking the next carry to the Fallon 35 before being drug down – one broken tackle away from paydirt.
The Greenwave took a 14-0 lead into the locker room.
Elko kicked off to start the third period and forced Fallon into back-to-back punts.
Tiner made a gutsy catch near midfield and returned the second punt to the Fallon 35.
The Elko faithful came to a deafening roar for a brief moment, as Byington broke loose – way loose – off-tackle right.
Byington raced home and appeared to cut the Fallon lead to eight at 14-6 late in the period, but Elko was called for a holding penalty – taking the points off the board before they could even post them.
The Indians followed with a complete meltdown – committing back-to-back unsportsmanlike penalties – the second coming from the sideline.
The penalties moved the Indians back to their own 26, and the yellow hankies kept flying – stemming from two false starts and a chop block.
Elko actually punted on third down with 20 seconds remaining in the third period on a 3rd-and-forever situation.
The kick was a beauty that sailed and rolled all the way to the Fallon 16 yard-line with a 60-yard boot.
With the switch of direction to start the fourth quarter, Fallon picked up a first down by Vercellotti to the 30-yard line and a big run by a high-stepping, woofing Nelson set up the Greenwave at the Elko 32.
Nelson used his legs once again and moved the ball to the Elko 17.
On 2nd-and-5 from the 11, the Greenwave pulled out the straw that broke the Indians’ backs.
Nelson threw a screen pass to the right sideline to Uptain, who made the first man miss and picked up a great block, racing to the end zone with 7:26 remaining.
The PAT gave Fallon a 21-0 lead.
The Indians moved the ball downfield with solid running by Tiner and picked up a first down at the Fallon 35 with a pass interference penalty by the Greenwave on fourth down.
A third-down pass to Jones moved the chains to the Fallon 19, and Byington ran for another 12.
Byington moved the ball to the 3 on first down, but the Greenwave dropped the Indians back to the 10 with a swarming D on second down. A Byington carry nearly crossed the goal line on third down, but he was dropped inside the Fallon 1.
Trailing by three touchdowns, Elko went for the conversion – but penetration by the Greenwave line doomed the inside give going to the right – forcing a turnover on downs.
The Greenwave got the ball back with a minute remaining in the game and went into victory formation, running out the clock and celebrating a 21-0 shutout on the road.
Thomas Ranson contributed to this story.