Few teams feel the advantage of playing at home as much as the Pahrump Valley High School football team.
Maybe it’s because nobody wants to drive over from Las Vegas. Maybe it’s the superior concession stand. Maybe it’s the vocal home crowd.
Whatever it is, playing at home should be even more of an advantage when the opponent has to travel at least 426 miles to get to the game. Last year, it was the Trojans making the trip to Winnemucca and returning with a demoralizing 41-40 loss to Lowry. This year, it’s the Buckaroos’ turn to get on the bus.
Defending Sunset League champion Pahrump Valley opens the 2019 season tonight against Lowry, one of the four teams to defeat the Trojans last season. But from quarterback to the defensive backfield, Pahrump Valley coach Joe Clayton feels the 23 players he expects to take the field are ready.
“The guys that are stepping up, they’re about as solid of a 23 that we’ve had,” said Clayton, in his seventh year at the helm. “Sometimes you’ve got a few bodies in there that can’t get the job done or you’re trying to find spots for them. But there are 23 boys here that we can put in so many different spots that can help us out.”
Junior quarterback Dylan Wright returns after taking over the starting job early last season and throwing for 542 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also ran for 157 yards and 6 touchdowns.
“Dylan’s progressed well since he took over,” Clayton said. “He’s getting better with the leadership part of it, which is one of the things we wanted him to work on, and he’s done a really good job with that. He’s got the confidence of the group, and he knows the offense really well.”
Despite losing three seniors who combined for almost 2,600 rushing yards, Clayton is supremely confident in his stable of running backs. Junior Tony Margiotta figures to get the most carries, but classmates Andrew Avena and Jalen Denton will see the ball a lot as well, and Clayton brought up sophomore Henry Amaya to the varsity backfield.
“Tony just runs really, really hard, 100 percent effort all the time in everything he does,” Clayton said. “Andrew is another hard-working kid. He believes in what we do, believes in the system and does whatever it takes to step up for us. Jalen Denton doesn’t have much experience, but he runs hard. Henry’s got some talent, and once he gets some varsity experience he’s going to be exciting to watch.”
One of the few big issues, albeit a very big one, is the temporary absence of Armani McGhee. Listed at 6-foot-2, 287 pounds last year, McGhee is a college prospect on the line who is dealing with plantar fasciitis issues.
“They say with a boot and staying off of it for a couple of weeks he should be fine,” Clayton said. “You can’t really replace a kid like that.”
But the offensive line remains a strength, with junior Anthony Carson stepping in for McGhee at right tackle, senior Caleb Sproul on the other side, senior Michael Belman at center, and juniors Jacob Lopez and Anthony Pearson at guards.
“We think our two guards are as good as they come,” Clayton said.
McGhee’s injury leaves a hole on the line of the Trojans’ revamped defense under new coordinator Mike Colucci, and Carson also will step in at nose guard. Senior Joaquin Souza will be on his left, and senior Jacob Buys will line up on his right.
“Two very explosive, athletic, energy-type guys,” Clayton said of his defensive ends. “With this defense we’re going to be running this year, we’re hoping they get some sacks and put some pressure on the QB on passing downs.”
Clayton called junior linebacker Fabian Soriano “probably our best defender, best tackler,” while Kenny Delker will be on the right and senior Kody Peugh will be in the middle. Clayton is very high on the five defensive backs: Amaya at safety, Avena and Margiotta at what they call overhang safeties and seniors Donnie Miller and Neal Redmond at the corners.
“We’re basically running a completely different defense,” Clayton said. “I ran the defense the last several years, but I promoted Mike to defensive coordinator this year and he put it in. Mike is a student of the game, does a great job, and he deserved it.”
Of course, in the Trojans’ system, everybody has to be a student of the game to some extent, as Clayton is fond of saying that if every part in the machine isn’t working things will fall apart.
“We do everything by committee,” he said, noting that Nico Velazquez’s 1,400 yards was not normal for his teams. “We need all 11 guys to block for each other, we need all 11 guys to play their roles, we share the ball a lot Once they realize what we’re doing, it all makes sense.”
It doesn’t always make sense to observers — one even referred to the Pahrump Valley offense as a triple option — but the slow, steady process of imposing the scheme on Trojan football has resulted in winning seasons two of the past three years after not having a winning record since 1995.
The pursuit of another one begins at 7 p.m. today at Trojan Field.
Trojans Game Night
Who: Lowry (0-0).
When/where: 7 p.m. today, Aug. 23, Trojan Field, Pahrump.
Series history: Lowry leads 1-0.
Last season: Lowry 41, Pahrump Valley 40.
Outlook: The first meeting between these teams was last year’s opener, when a bad case of butter fingers sabotaged an impressive 450-yard offensive effort by the Trojans, who took a 40-27 lead into the fourth quarter before losing. Nico Velazquez rushed for 257 yards and Casey Flennory added 146, while Lowry did more damage through the air than on the ground. The Buckaroos count 18 seniors on their 33-man varsity roster and are coming off a 6-6 season in which they qualified for the Class 3A North Region playoffs. Although they graduated starting quarterback Brendan Domire, most of the production for the Buckaroos returns. The Trojans are 14-31-1 in opening games, last winning in 2016 at home against Eldorado, 38-16.
Coach Clayton says: “Their running back is the one we’re going to key on defensively. He didn’t hurt us, but we know how solid he is. Their pass is what killed us last year, and we’re set up better to stop their pass this year.”