Now, the gloves come off.
In yet another march to lift the school’s first state championship trophy since 1978, the Fallon football team faces a familiar foe in the first round of the Northern Division I-A playoffs.
The Greenwave (9-1) hosts Lowry (7-3) at 7 p.m. today at the Edward Arciniega Complex.
After a ho-hum 34-7 win last week over the Buckaroos, both teams will lay everything on the line. Survive and advance.
Admittedly, both coaches — Fallon’s Brooke Hill and Lowry’s Tim Billingsley — said last week’s game plans were intentionally basic. As of today, however, there is no tomorrow.
Win or go home.
“We have got to expect the unexpected,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “Both teams didn’t show a whole lot last week. On the defensive side, we have to stay physical and tackle well.”
Although neither team showed much last week, the reality is both clubs know each other’s schemes. Preparation for the unexpected, though, is key to prevent momentum shifts and big plays.
The scene is a familiar one for Fallon, who dropped Fernley twice last year including once in the first round of playoffs in their journey to the state final. The Wave hammered the Vaqueros in the first matchup, but needed a second-half rally to advance.
Fallon also lost two straight to Lowry to close the 2012 season.
“They are probably going to add a few things from last week and we’ll have to make our adjustments,” Hill said.
Lowry will ride its veer attack on the legs of the league’s leading rusher, Beau Billingsley, (1,291 yards, 20 touchdowns) and its bruiser, Donovan Brumm (753 yards, one TD).
Fallon counters with the speedy, yet physical Nathan Heck (1,280 yards, 17 TDs) and change-of-pace back Charles Fulks (534 yards, five TDs). In addition, quarterback Joe Pyle has been surgical all season as he’s thrown for 1,608 yards, 20 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Perhaps Pyle’s biggest strength, though, is his accuracy. The first-year signal caller is completing 61.5 percent of his passes, which is also a credit to a solid receiving corps led by Dylan Jabines (37 catches, 499 yards), Connor Richardson (27 receptions, 393 yards), Cameron Beyer (20 catches, 234 yards) and Jordan Schultz (12 receptions, 153 yards).
His command of the passing game has limited turnovers, opened big plays and when needed, using his legs to scramble out of danger.
“They great thing about Joe is he is never really too high or too low,” Hill said. “He doesn’t have to do anything special for us to be special, he just has to be Joe.”
A noticeable difference in the schools’ first matchup, though, was speed, especially on defense.
Fallon’s athleticism created havoc all night led by the front of Justin Hatfield, T.J. Mauga and Hunter Holcombe. Linebackers Riley Williams, Johnny Mayo, Evan Bitter and Trae Workman flew to the ball and limited Lowry’s ability to break of a big play.
Should Lowry take to the air more than they did last week, limiting Hatfield will be critical. The Fallon senior has tallied 14 sacks this season (tied for fifth all-time in a single season in DI-A) and owns the career sack record with 33.
As a team, the Wave has racked up 25 sacks and 89 tackles for a loss — 36 of which belong to Hatfield.
But Hatfield isn’t the only standout on the defensive line, as Holcombe (three sacks, 13 TF), and Mauga (32 tackles, seven TFL) provide a solid rotation at defensive end. In the middle, Najee Stanford (32 tackles, four TFL) and Bradlee Stands (26 tackles) provide a tough combination and make up the best unit in the north and perhaps the state.
“We got a lot of quality guys,” Hill said. “They are fresh when they get in there. We don’t have anybody going the game, and we don’t want that.”
While the speed is an advantage, Fallon’s defense must be prepared for Lowry’s passing attack. The Buckaroos only threw the ball 10 times last week, and didn’t reveal much as far as formations and different routes.
Quarterback Christian Gray threw for 1,211 yards with six TDs, but nine interceptions.
However, the identity of the Buckaroos is their smash-mouth running attack led by Billingsley and Brumm.
“You don’t want to let them get in a rhythm with their offense,” Hill said. “We want to make sure that we are handling them up front. We have to make sure we are executing on the defensive side.”
In the other DI-A playoffs games, No. 2 Elko (8-1) hosts No. 3 Fernley (7-3) in a Northern matchup.
Elko thumped the Vaqueros, 49-28, on Sept. 19. But Fernley has been on a roll thanks to quarterback Kevin Montgomery (1,113 passing yards, 15 TDs, five picks) and running back Brain Reyes (899 yards, 12 TDs).
Reyes, though, did not play last week and may not suit up against Elko.
The Indians, however, provide a stiff test with an unforgiving running attack. Fernley’s defense must hold the bigger Indians to allow Montgomery and the offense to get a lead. The Vaqueros’ passing attack and their run defense may be the difference.
In the south, traditional power Moapa Valley (10-0), the Sunrise League’s No. 1 seed, hosts No. 2 Sierra Vista (7-3) from the Sunset League. The Pirates are led by quarterback Zach Hymas (1,348 yards, 17 TDs, two picks), while Sierra Vista counters with running back Maliek Broady, who led the DI-A with 1,383 yards and added 15 TDs.
Defending state champs Faith Lutheran (7-3), the No. 1 seed from the Sunset League, is riding a six-game winning streak and hosts No. 2 Desert Pines (9-1) from the Sunrise League,
Faith Lutheran is led by quarterback Gregory Benson (1,388 yards, 16 TDs, four interceptions), while Desert Pines is anchored by quarterback Marckell Grayson (1,652, 25 TDs, eight picks) and Isiah Morris (1,159 yards, 13 TDs).