Was it a devastating, soul-crushing loss? Or was it just a frustrating but minor bump in the road?
The Pahrump Valley High School football team did not get off to the start it had expected, with four turnovers negating the best offensive performance anyone around the Trojans can remember in a 41-40 loss to Lowry.
The details make it seem even worse. The Trojans blew a 32-13 lead, and the winning score came in the final minute of the game after the last of those turnovers. There’s no happy way to spin that. It was brutal.
Adding injury to insult, at a time when the Trojans should have been running out the clock, instead they had a player get hurt on the Buckaroos’ tying touchdown.
“The rough part about it was, right at the end, when they scored, Joey Koenig is now going to be out because he got a concussion,” Pahrump Valley coach Joe Clayton said. “The game was stalled for about 10 minutes at 40-40. Then, when that was over, they kicked the extra point to win. It was just horrible the way it ended.”
So much for the “icing the kicker” theory. Clayton said Caleb Sproul also suffered a concussion during the game, stretching an already-thin roster even thinner.
“Our starting guard and our starting corner are both out with concussions,” Clayton said. “If you figure out the numbers, that puts us at 18 varsity boys.”
Devastating. Soul-crushing. Except …
If the Trojans can recover mentally in time for tonight’s home opener against Virgin Valley, the only thing that will matter about the loss will be the injuries. Clayton believes they will.
“They already forgot about it,” he said. “I said, ‘The nice thing about it is we got it out of the way.’ It was the first game out. Had it been in league, in the middle of the year, it would have been devastating to have a loss like that. They understand, and at the same time, it’s great timing, because we play really well at home.”
The support of the home crowd can make tonight’s game feel like the “real” opener. Not to completely dismiss what happened in Winnemucca, but in the end it does not matter. All of the Trojans’ goals are still on the table, and Clayton firmly believes his players get it.
“I told the boys right away, right after that game, that this has no bearing at all on our league play,” he explained. “They understand. It’s not that it doesn’t matter. I told them, ‘If you’re hurting right now because of this tough loss, it obviously mattered.’ But in the big picture, when it comes to playoffs and league competition, it means nothing.
“It should matter, because obviously everybody wants to win every game you play. But I told them, does this affect our league championship? That’s the first thing I said to them after the game. No.”
Football coaches, as a rule, are not known for nuance. But Clayton has drawn the line exactly where it needs to be drawn: It was a brutal, devastating loss, but it doesn’t mean squat. It makes no sense, yet it makes perfect sense.
It’s simple. In many sports, you might play two or three times a week, more often when there are in-season tournaments or games rescheduled because of rain. Football is once a week. For an entire week, players prepare for the task at hand, totally focused on beating that week’s opponent. Defeat, especially one such as the Lowry game, hurts. And it hurts bad.
But for making the playoffs, for trying to play for a Class 3A state championship, it is entirely irrelevant. Only your league games count for playoff seeding. It’s unlikely to happen, but in theory a team could lose every non-league game, go unbeaten in league play and be a top seed in the playoffs despite a mediocre overall record.
That is not the Trojans’ plan, of course. But it does put the opening loss in perspective.
Getting back on track starts tonight against Virgin Valley, and motivation won’t be a problem. Aside from having a vocal crowd behind them, the Bulldogs began the year as the top-ranked team in Class 3A South. And it was Virgin Valley that eliminated Pahrump Valley from the playoffs last year.
“There’s always been a little history between Virgin Valley and us,” Clayton said. “We always like to beat Virgin Valley, for sure. They’re another small-town team, just like us, they play scrappy just like we do, they always put a good football team out there, so it should be a good football game.”
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