It is nearly like looking in the mirror.
The similarities between Fallon and Desert Pines are striking.
Both have speedy running backs, efficient quarterbacks and terrorizing defensive ends. Each team is filled with athletic game-breakers and big, physical lineman.
It’s the most athletic opponent since the Greenwave’s season-opening loss to Cardinal Newman (Calif.). That experience, however, may be the difference in Saturday’s Division I-A state semifinal at 1 p.m. at the Edward Arciniega Complex.
“They are the most athletic team we’ve faced all year,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “They got a quality quarterback, they got a slew of running backs. The closest in size is Cardinal Newman. They are somewhat similar.”
The Jaguars avenged last season’s regional playoff loss to Faith Lutheran with a 34-27 win last week over the defending state champs. It’s the Jaguars first state appearance since the school realigned three years ago to the DI-A.
Fallon, meanwhile, aims to return to the state final where it lost against Faith Lutheran. Experience and home-field advantage may give the Greenwave a leg up, but Hill said he expects a tough, physical matchup with Desert Pines.
A message left with Desert Pines coach Ernesto Rodriguez was not returned.
“Having a home game is huge,” Hill added. “I don’t buy into the travel stuff, we travel to Elko. We got some experience … and some close games in the playoffs. Last year, that helps us out and so does our approach.”
The Jaguars, though, run a spread offense and use four and five wide receiver sets, like Fallon. In this scenario, however, Hill is preparing for all options including a no-huddle attack.
“We are anticipating that,” Hill said. “They are going to run some Wing-T stuff. We have to be discipline. They try to get the ball to their athletes, which is just good coaching.”
Their similarities start with two speedy backs who have racked up yards and touchdowns. Fallon is anchored by Nathan Heck (1,436 yards, 19 TDs), while the Jaguars lean on Isaiah Morris (1,327 yards, 14 TDs).
“I think that is going to be the key for us, to establish the run,” Hill said. “We are always going to try to establish the run, which will open up the passing game.”
Fallon’s Pistol offense is lead by quarterback Joe Pyle (1,724 yards, 20 TDs, two interceptions), as Desert Pines counters with Marckell Grayson, who has completed 102 of 108 passes for 1,769 yards, 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Ball security, meanwhile, has been a staple for the Fallon offense and is a critical component in any game, let alone a state semifinal. The Wave has just seven turnovers this season and last year’s turnover problems in the state semifinal and final are fresh in Hill’s mind.
Fallon combined for 11 turnovers in those two games, although Hill and his staff has stressed holding onto the ball.
“We’ve done a good job of taking care of the ball this year,” he said. “It’s a huge priority. We focus on ball security. Joe’s just done a great job of managing the game, and if he continues with that and taking what the defense gives him, so if he continues with that, he ought to continue not making mistakes.”
Still, the offense has been impressive this season including consecutive routs over Lowry the past two weeks. Fallon averages 39.7 points per game, but despite the numbers, perhaps the biggest win of the season came in a slugfest when the Wave rallied from a 14-0 hole at Elko to win 25-14.
“We are anticipating a battle and grind it out for four quarters,” Hill said. “We got to prepare ourselves for 48 minutes of football.”
Defensively, Justin Hatfield spearheads the line and has tallied 14 sacks, second all-time in a single season in the DI-A, while Hunter Holcombe (three) and T.J. Magua (two) also provide pressure from the edge. The single-season leader, meanwhile, sits opposite Hatfield.
Despite allowing 56 points to Cardinal Newman, Fallon’s defense has been dominant against league competition. The unit is only allowing 15.7 points per game including just 13 total points in their final two games.
Desert Pines, though, counters with Anthony Smith, who leads the DI-A with 16 sacks followed by Angel Torres (eight), Jautae Collins (six) and Kaleb Jardine-Milar (five) for a unit allowing just 17.2 points per game.
“They have a couple d-ends who are high quality players,” Hill said. “We have to protect Joe and get our running game going. The are athletic, come at you and present a huge challenge. We have go to make sure our front (line) has good balance.”
Desert Pines’ offense centers on speed and getting the ball into their playmakers hands in space. The Jaguars are averaging 41.5 points per game on offense.
Although the Jaguars have speed, so does Fallon.
The Wave’s linebacking corps of Riley Williams, Johnny Mayo, Evan Bitter and Trae Workman fly to the ball. Williams leads the team with 114 tackles followed by Mayo (71), Bitter (58) and Workman (56).
In addition, Fallon’s secondary also boasts speed and quickness to keep pace with the Jaguars.
Their duty will be to blanket receiver Andre Watts, who has hauled in 34 passes for 498 yards and 10 TDs, and Jon McCoy (21 receptions, 480 yards, six TDs).
“We have speed to, but we definitely have to tackle in space,” Hill said. “You have to make sure you are breaking down … and have to wrap up and let the Calvary come in and help you out.”
The Jaguars’ lone loss came on Sept. 13 in a 43-30 defeat to Moapa Valley. Since then, the Jaguars have won eight straight including a pair of playoff wins over Cheyenne (34-20) on Oct. 30 and Faith Lutheran.