Joe Clayton knew exactly what his Pahrump Valley High School football team was facing against Boulder City on Friday night in the Class 3A playoffs.
“I grew up on boxing with my old man, watching Friday Night Fights all the time,” he said. “And I told the boys, ‘You know what? This one’s going to be a 15-round fight. And we have to win unanimously, which means our one-on-one battles have to be won by all of us, all 11 on the field, so you better get ready for a battle.’ ”
They were ready.
Nico Velazquez carried 34 times for 180 bruising yards, Dylan Wright directed a critical scoring drive as the first half closed and the Pahrump Valley defense came up with a couple of huge stops as the Trojans advanced by winning a 32-30 slugfest at Trojan Field.
The 15th round was predictable: Pahrump Valley getting the ball with four minutes left and a lead is a story with only one ending. The Trojans’ relentless, punishing ground game has worn down opponents all season, and they have held the ball for far more than four minutes to close games. Everybody on the home sideline had to believe it would happen again.
“No doubt, no doubt,” said Velazquez, a big reason for that confidence. After Thorsten Balmer’s touchdown and 2-point run pulled Boulder City within 32-30, offensive coordinator Craig Rieger called Velazquez’s number seven consecutive times, riding the senior for 40 yards until it was time for Wright to take a knee twice inside the Eagles’ 5-yard line.
“Rieger goes, ‘I knew I was just giving it to him, but I didn’t realize how much,’ ” Clayton said. “I told him, ‘That’s what you do. You give it to your guy. You let your guy win the game for you.’ “
The game’s end created a lively celebration on the Trojans’ side of the field, but the path to the finish was not a direct route. Boulder City built a 10-point lead during the second quarter, and the game featured key turnovers and huge defensive stands.
The early rounds of the fight were played basically to a draw, as each team scored on all but one possession during the first half. In fact, the teams were almost dead even in total offense, with the Eagles compiling 216 yards to the Trojans’ 210.
The difference that created the 26-22 halftime score in favor of the Trojans was the extra possession, courtesy of Jalen Denton. After a helmet-to-helmet penalty put the Eagles in a long-yardage situation, quarterback Parker Reynolds, who otherwise had a strong game for the visitors, rolled right and heaved an ill-advised pass on second-and-17. The ball seemed headed for Denton right from the start, and the sophomore made the interception at the Trojans’ 44-yard line with 1:16 left in the half.
A 16-yard run by Velazquez gave Pahrump Valley a first down at the Eagles’ 43, giving the Trojans 1:06 to work with before halftime. The Trojans went to the spread, and Wright attempted passes on the next six plays, completing three: one to Joey Koenig down the left sideline for 27 yards, one over the middle to Dylan Grossell for 9 yards that put the Trojans on the Eagles’ 11, and the last back to Koenig, who made a sensational catch in the end zone on fourth down as time expired.
Koenig then hit Casey Flennory for the 2-point conversion on a halfback option.
“My mind’s stuck on Jalen’s interception when we scored right before the half,” Clayton said after the game. “We went into our spread offense and scored. Phenomenal catch. And Casey’s 2-point conversion catch was just as good as Joey’s. Those are just big plays by kids who have come through for us all season.
“The huge touchdown right before the half was tremendous. That to me won the game for us.”
They were in position to take the lead because of Velazquez, who took the kickoff following the touchdown that gave the Eagles that 10-point lead, cut right, then up and then left for a 90-yard touchdown that electrified an already-noisy crowd.
“I was just angry,” Velazquez said. “The kicker was in my face the whole time on the prior defensive drive. He kicked it straight to me and I decided, you know, whatever, take it to the house.”
That shifted the momentum and was soon followed by Denton’s interception and Wright’s pass to Koenig. Down 10 with 3:44 to go in the half, the Trojans suddenly found themselves up four at the break.
Defense would take center stage in the second half, not that the first play of the third quarter suggested it. Reynolds found Dunagan open over the middle, and Dunagan was off to the races until Willie Lucas hauled him down inside the Trojans’ 20 after a 61-yard gain. Two Balmer runs netted only 5 yards, then Reynolds, under pressure, scrambled back just past the line of scrimmage to bring up fourth-and-4.
The Eagles were called for delay of game, and those yards proved crucial when Reynolds was stopped on a nice tackle by Tristan Maughan short of a first down on a keeper.
“Another one that sticks out in my mind that was just absolutely incredible was when they threw that big play to Dunagan where it was like 60 yards, and then we didn’t let them score,” Clayton said. “That was a really big stand. You’re only up four, and to start the half with a huge play like that you’re thinking they’re going to score and go ahead. For our defense to just stuff them was pretty incredible.”
The defense did the same thing later in the third. The Trojans took the ball after the stop and promptly held it for 14 plays, marching 69 yards to the BC 23 on their way to a two-score lead. But on fourth down, the Eagles stripped the ball for a turnover and had it back down by only four.
But the Trojans held. Balmer was held to 1 yard going to his left and 2 yards up the middle, and on third down, Reynolds, running for his life, was called for intentional grounding. Moments after a fumble seemed to take the air out of the Trojans, they had the ball back with that four-point lead intact.
“That was a huge momentum swing,” Clayton said.
Then the Trojans did what the Trojans generally do in such situations. Thirteen running plays chewed up more than six minutes, and when Velazquez powered into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the Eagles’ 1, the Trojans held a 10-point lead.
The Eagles weren’t done, going 65 yards in 3:07 to cut the gap. Balmer scored from a yard out and then ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 32-30, and the Trojans ran it out from there.
Reynolds finished with 227 yards through the air, while Balmer rushed for 94. Koenig and Flennory ran effectively for the Trojans, with Koenig netting 57 yards and Flennory 60 as they finished with 323 yards on the ground.
The win sends the Trojans into the Class 3A state semifinals against Churchill County, the top seed out of Northern Nevada. Game time is 1 p.m. Saturday in Fallon.
For more coverage, see the Trojans Football Notebook on pvtimes.com
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at email@example.com On Twitter:@PVTimesSports
Trojans playoff history
1978: defeated Moapa Valley 3-0, lost to Pershing County 18-0
1980: lost to Moapa Valley 12-6
1993: lost to North Tahoe 41-7
2001: lost to Virgin Valley 44-21
2003: lost to Moapa Valley 38-0
2004: lost to Moapa Valley 45-28
2005: lost to Virgin Valley 26-7
2006: lost to Moapa Valley 20-10
2012: lost to Moapa Valley 65-0
2016: lost to Moapa Valley 40-14
2017: lost to Virgin Valley 43-34
2018: defeated Boulder City 32-30