After what happened the first time Pahrump Valley and Boulder City met this season, there was little doubt what the Trojans’ primary goal had to be the second time around: Stop Thorsten Balmer.
Balmer shredded the Trojans for 211 yards in the teams’ first meeting, a 32-28 Eagles win in Boulder City. Trojans coach Joe Clayton boiled down the task for the playoffs to, “Stop Balmer.”
“We were really focusing in on No. 20,” Pahrump Valley quarterback Dylan Wright said. “We had to hit him hard all game. He’s their guy, and they want to get the ball to him.”
Balmer did have a good game, but he wasn’t the dominant force he was the first time. The senior carried 17 times for 98 yards and three touchdowns.
“I did notice that Balmer was banged up,” Pahrump Valley coach Joe Clayton said. “He had two or three fingers taped up. Somebody said they thought he might have broken his hand a few weeks ago. I think that’s why they stopped going to him. He took some shots early in the game, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of those shots did a deed on him.”
Containing the Eagles’ ground game was essential because the Eagles’ passing game was stellar. Junior quarterback Parker Reynolds completed 9 of 13 passes for 228 yards — more than 25 yards per catch — and a touchdown, although he also threw a critical interception to Jalen Denton that enabled the Trojans to squeeze in another possession before the first half ended.
“When I look at their offense, they’re so well-balanced, and that’s what put them in position to get this far in the season,” Clayton said. “Obviously, Balmer’s their guy, and he’s just a phenomenal athlete, but because he’s such a good runner, and the way they run their offense, the play-action pass off of their run game with Balmer was so good.”
Changing the narrative
It’s not easy for a team to beat another team twice when they are evenly matched, but that doesn’t mean it happens without a lot of hard work. The Trojans went into Round 2 against the Eagles knowing what had to improve.
“We figured out what we were doing wrong, like not keeping our heads up,” senior lineman Zach Trieb said. “So that way it helped with taking out linebackers and being more physical up front.
“Stay on your blocks, and get all the linebackers you can.”
“We just shot out more, fired out, executed better and really got it done,” senior lineman Brandon Bunker added.
How much better did the Trojans execute? How about 100 yards better?
In the first game, the Trojans managed just 278 total yards while the Eagles racked up 402. But this time around, Pahrump Valley’s offense improved that total to 377 while the defense shaved 42 yards off of Boulder City’s first-game total.
“It was such a team effort defensively for us,” Clayton said. “We don’t have the true, dominating, just mean, nasty, change-the-game defender. We rely so much on all 11 guys defensively to really know their jobs well and to know their assignments on whatever defensive call we make.
“The big thing is we take the thinking out of it for them. We just drill in practice so much on what we want them to do as far as execution that they just play fast because they don’t have to think. They just know what their assignment is, and they can just play as fast as they can.
An impressive non-stand
People will remember defensive stands in which the offense is kept out of the end zone, or a key three-and-out after a turnover. The Trojans had both of those Friday night, and they were critical to the outcome. But another stand that did not end as well was extremely impressive. Call it three-fourths of an amazing goal-line stand.
Reynolds hit Deavin Lopez with an 18-yard pass to the Pahrump Valley 2 midway through the second quarter. Balmer then went up the middle but was stopped just short of the end zone. And just short means just that. From the sideline, with the naked eye, it was impossible to see any space between the tip of the football and the goal line.
Yet, on second down with less than an inch to go, Balmer was stuffed again, even pushed back by, when the ball was finally spotted, what appeared to be 2 inches. On third down, Balmer again got the call and tried to go left, but the Trojans would have none of it, pushing him back to the 2.
The Eagles gave up trying to pound the ball in, and on fourth down Reynolds found Jimmy Dunagan to give the Eagles their biggest lead at 22-12.
Nico, Nico and more Nico
That 10-point lead was not long for this world. The ensuing kickoff was the one Velazquez returned 90 yards for a touchdown that pulled the Trojans within four.
“His kickoff return for a touchdown, I mean, come on,” Clayton said, wonder in his voice.
Velazquez, always the Pahrump Valley workhorse, was at his punishing best Friday night. The senior carried 34 times, easily his season high. But his seemingly limitless energy was called upon almost until the very end.
“Ultimately, it comes down to Nico Velazquez,” Clayton said. “He’s our guy, 180 yards, three TDs, just give it to your horse. If you notice, the last drive, number 35 touched the ball every time.”
Clayton is referring to the seven carries for 40 yards Velazquez compiled as the Trojans were running the last four minutes off of the clock.
“He’s got great hands,” Clayton continued. “He’s so deceiving with his size. He’s not quick-footed, he just reads holes really, really well. And once he hits the hole, he can punish you to finish.”
In this case, Velazquez finished off the Eagles.
A rare accomplishment
So everyone knows the Trojans have not been a football powerhouse. But take a closer look and it becomes clear what a special accomplishment Friday night’s playoff victory was for Pahrump Valley.
The Trojans had not won a playoff game since their very first game, a 3-0 win over Moapa Valley in 1978. From an 18-0 loss to Pershing County the following week until Friday night’s win over Boulder City, the Trojans went 0-11 in postseason play.
That’s only part of the story. First of all, the Trojans only have made the playoffs 12 times in 41 seasons, and in many of those seasons the top four teams in their league qualified. Then, a look at the scores shows the Trojans were seldom competitive in their trips to the postseason, getting outscored 392-127 in those 11 defeats.
Add in that their best stretch of playoff appearances, four in a row from 2003-2006 and five times in six years including 2001 under coach Steve Nygaard, wasn’t exactly a golden age. The Trojans did not finish with a winning record in any of those seasons, ranging from 3-7 in 2006 to 5-5 in 2004.
Of course, winning records have been few and far between in Pahrump. The Trojans have been playing football since 1973, and this year will mark the program’s eighth winning season. Eight. Since 1973. And only the second since 1995.
So don’t let anyone tell you taking a 7-3 record into the second round of the playoffs isn’t special. It’s a big deal for the coaches and players and everyone involved with Pahrump Valley football.
Major challenge ahead
The victory sends the Trojans to Fallon for a 1 p.m. Saturday Class 3A state semifinal game against Churchill County. The Greenwave, who advanced with a 54-13 win over Fernley, will pose another major challenge for the confident Trojans.
Churchill County (10-0) has both a 1,000-yard rusher (5-foot-9, 180-pound senior Sean McCormick, with 127 carries for 1,187 yards) and a 1,000-yard receiver (5-7, 165-pound junior Brock Richardson, 47 catches for 1,093 yards). Junior Tommy McCormick is another receiving threat with 32 catches for 577 yards, while junior quarterback Elijah Jackson has rushed for 761 yards.
Jackson is no slouch in the passing game, either, completing 104 of 159 passes for 1,900 yards and 21 touchdowns against four interceptions.
All that offense translates to points on the scoreboard, but the Greenwave can play defense as well, putting together a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless quarters before Fernley scored in the playoff opener. The combination has led to Churchill County outscoring its opponents 480-72, including a 68-18 win over North Valley and shutout victories over Fernley (40-0 in the regular season), Dayton (55-0), Elko (44-0), Sparks (49-0) and Lowry (43-0).
Lowry is the only common opponent for Churchill County and Pahrump Valley. The Buckaroos defeated the Trojans 41-40 in the season opener in Winnemucca.
If that sounds a bit frightening, don’t worry about the Trojans. They have improved throughout the season and believe firmly they can play with anybody they come across.
“As long as you keep your head straight and do your job, it doesn’t matter who you play,” Trieb said.
Added Bunker: “We’ve always got a fight ahead of us, and we’re always ready for a fight.”
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter:@PVTimesSports