Pahrump Valley’s path to football state final runs through Fallon

One of the best parts about postseason football is the chance for teams that don’t know each other well to cross paths with everything on the line. When the styles are very different, that just adds to the intrigue.

That is exactly what will happen Saturday in Fallon when Pahrump Valley meets Churchill County in the Class 3A state semifinals.

The two teams have never met, and their playoff histories could not be more different. The Trojans are coming off their first playoff victory since 1978, and they were 0-11 in the postseason between the two wins. Beating Boulder City 32-30 in the first round was monumental for coach Joe Clayton’s program.

“I’m not sure if it’s hit them yet,” Clayton said of his players. “It is huge!”

Meanwhile, the Greenwave have been a fixture in the postseason, getting to the playoffs each year since 2010 and winning at least one playoff game five times during that span. They reached the state final twice, losing to Faith Lutheran in 2013 and defeating Moapa Valley in 2015 for what was then the Division I-A title.

Since 2013, Churchill County has posted an overall record of 57-11, including 7-4 in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Pahrump Valley has been playing football since 1973, with eight winning seasons to show for it, just two since 1995.

One thing the teams have in common is beef up front. Both teams have players around the 300-pound mark, with the Greenwave led by 6-foot-5, 295-pound Ben Dooley and another 290-pounder, Benni Otuafi. The Trojans match up with 303-pounder Zach Trieb, 298-pounder Jakob Landis, Armani McGhee at 6-2, 287, Caleb Sproul at 6-3, 270 and Brandon Bunker at 6-4, 268.

While the battle on the line should be brutal, the teams have different styles. The Trojans are a grind-it-out offensive machine, taking a relatively basic attack and running it to near perfection.

Durable senior Nico Velazquez has rushed 194 times for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns, while classmate Casey Flennory is averaging more than 7 yards per carry with 788 yards on 108 rushes and six touchdowns. Overall, the Trojans have 2,921 yards rushing for the season.

To put that last number in perspective, the previous best single-season rushing performance for a Trojan team since 2005 is the 1,903 yards posted by the 2006 team. Their 36 rushing touchdowns is 13 more than the previous best, set by Clayton’s 2013 team that went 3-6.

Churchill County coach Brooke Hill, the winningest football coach in school history, has nothing but respect for Pahrump Valley.

“They’re a very physical team, they’ve got a lot of size and have some good backs who run hard,” Hill said. “They’re not really a passing team, but they’re the type of team who will pound it out against you.”

The Greenwave defense hasn’t seen a running back who can punish a front line the way Velazquez does. And with multiple players who can run effectively, the hosts will see different looks coming at them on the ground.

“They try to keep possession of the football,” Hill pointed out. “What they do is not elaborate, but what they do is well executed.”

Churchill County counters with senior Sean McCormick, who has compiled 1,187 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, and junior Elijah Jackson, who has rushed for 761 yards and 12 scores. Jackson is the Greenwave’s quarterback, and he is a serious dual threat. Jackson’s 1,856 yards passing leads all Class 3A quarterbacks, and among those with at least 12 attempts he leads in completion percentage at .654. He also has 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Jackson has verbally committed to play football at the University of Idaho. His favorite target is Brock Richardson, a junior with 47 receptions for 1,083 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“They are very sound offensively,” Clayton said. “Their running back is solid, and their QB is pretty good, too.”

The Trojans do not throw the ball often, but they dusted off their spread offense for the second time this season Friday night against Boulder City. Against the Eagles and again in a rout of Western, sophomore Dylan Wright directed the Trojans to touchdowns.

Overall, since taking the reins from senior Tyler Floyd, Wright has completed 14 of 31 passes for 525 yards and seven touchdowns, throwing only one interception.

On defense, Churchill County’s pass rush is led by seniors Tristan Rodarte and Trey Rooks, with each recording five sacks this season, while McCormick has six interceptions from his free safety position. For Pahrump Valley, sophomore Andrew Avena’s three interceptions lead the team, while senior Willie Lucas has two, while Velazquez has three sacks and several players have recorded two.

The Trojans have a 343-mile trek for this semifinal matchup, and the Greenwave are aware of that.

“Having home-field advantage will help us,” Churchill County defensive end Brenden Larson said. “It’s hard to come up here and play us. We’ll work hard in practice and not make any mistakes, and we’ll be ready for Saturday.”

The whistle blows at 1 p.m. Saturday. A victory would send Pahrump Valley into the Class 3A state final Nov. 17 at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

Steve Ranson of the Lahontan Valley News contributed to this story. Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at trysinski@pvtimes.com On Twitter:@PVTimesSports

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