I know, every game is the “biggest game of the year” during the week of that particular game. But no matter you look at it, when it comes to Friday night’s game against Del Sol, the phrase sticks.
This really is the biggest game of the year for Pahrump Valley High School’s football team.
The Trojans are 1-5 and opened Sunset League play with a convincing 36-16 loss at Cheyenne, which is clearly the class of the Sunset this season. The Desert Shields (6-1) are the only team in the five-team league with a winning record.
Del Sol is 3-3. After Del Sol, the Trojans will play Valley (3-4) and Western (1-5), but playing the Warriors is basically the same as having a bye week. Don’t believe me? The Warriors’ only win was against Class 2A Calvary Chapel, and they have been shut out in all five losses. So count that as a win.
That leaves Del Sol and Valley to determine if Pahrump Valley makes the playoffs and at what seed.
Yes, I know. A 1-5 team has little business talking about playoff seeding. But that’s the way the playoffs work in Nevada. Keep in mind that the Trojans have taken a losing record into the playoffs before, as recently as two years ago, when a 2-3 league record, 4-5 overall, put them in the postseason, where they gave Virgin Valley — a team they never beat (7-43 all time) — a great battle before falling 43-34.
The 2006 team was just 3-6, 1-3 in the old Class 3A Southern, and made the playoffs, where they lost 20-10 to a Moapa Valley team that had put up 56 points on them two games earlier.
So there’s some history to it, both getting in with a losing record and playing better in the playoffs than during the regular season. Hey, it’s something to hang your hat on.
Valley is not a pushover, but Del Sol is better. Even so, the Dragons don’t really have an impressive win on their schedule. They beat Western 49-0, a 2-4 Sunrise Mountain team (one of their wins also was against Western) and a SLAM Academy team that represents the lone win on the Trojans’ schedule.
Perhaps a better example of Del Sol’s ability is one of the losses. The Dragons put up 27 points against the Virgin Valley team that shut out the Trojans, falling by one point.
If Pahrump Valley can beat Del Sol on Friday night, the entire outlook changes. The frustration subsides, the confidence returns, and knowing the two easiest teams (save for newcomer SLAM) on the schedule remain add up to a very interesting postseason push.
“It would surprise me if we don’t win out,” Clayton said. “I know a lot of people would think that will be crazy talk, but I have the confidence in the boys, and they have the confidence in each other.”
So yes, Del Sol is the biggest game left, which, by definition, makes it the biggest game of the season.
Injuries continue to haunt the Trojans — of course, when you start with only 23 players on varsity the risk is pretty high — but at least the news is a mix of players banged up and players returning.
The big news, of course, was Tony Margiotta, ans his 116 yards and 25 carries showed he is ready to be the workhorse back after returning from a knee injury. And Kody Peugh, feared to have a broken collarbone and lost for the season, was on the field Friday night as well.
“Kody seems to be doing all right,” Pahrump Valley coach Joe Clayton said. “We were a little concerned if he would be 100 percent, but he played really hard, played well. He hasn’t said anything about his shoulder.”
Jalen Denton was dressed but not 100 percent ready to go.
“Jalen got hurt, so he didn’t practice early in the week,” Clayton said. “He had a problem with his shoulder, so we weren’t sure if he was going to be able to play. He got cleared and was feeling pretty good Thursday, but we didn’t know how many reps he would get.”
Up front, Miguel Belman’s nagging injury hampered his ability to fend off Cheyenne’s De’kauri Hawkins, who spent much of the evening disrupting the Pahrump Valley ground game. Hawkins made life so miserable for Belman that more than once the coaching staff heard about the problem from the players.
Of course, they already had noticed.
“Miguel is still fighting that leg,” Clayton said. “What made it tough is their nose gurd, number 20, was so darn quick. And that bone bruise slowed him down a little bit.”
Meanwhile, the line has another problem. Junior Anthony Carson, who was taking the place of Armani McGhee, is taking his turn in the training room.
“Carson is out,” Clayton said. “I’m not sure what his diagnosis was, he possibly has a concussion. So (sophomore Dylan) Severt will be playing tacke for him.”
As if the injuries aren’t a big enough problem for the Trojans, they may be facing Del Sol without two other mainstays in the lineup. A scuffle broke out late in the game against Cheyenne, and four players were ejected. On the Pahrump Valley side, they were Jacob Lopez and Andrew Avena. By rule, any ejected player is suspended for the next game.
”We’re appealing that decision,” Clayton said. “I was told tht two of Cheyenne’s players and Jacob and Andrew were ejected for throwing punches, and we appealed that because neither one of them threw a punch. I’m not sure how that’s going to play out.”
But it gets worse.
“The crazy thing about is the Cheyenne kids didn’t throw punches, either,” Clayton continued. “You watch on film, two of their guys got ejected and two of our guys got ejected, but you watch on film and no punches were thrown.”
Without Lopez, the Trojans would be faced with yet another hole to fill on the line, while Avena, after a strong start to the season, again has been playing well, accounting for 113 all-purpose yards against the Desert Shields.
“He had a great game,” Clayton said of Avena. “He’s been actually running the ball a lot better so we give him more reps, but it all depends on what the defense gives us. Andrew has been playing really well for us on both sides of the ball.”
Clayton: Belief still there
Losing five times in six games, including your first league game, certainly can have a demoralizing effect on a team. But Clayton believes his team still has confidence in its ability to win the last three games and go into the playoffs on an upbeat note.
“We started to see a little bit of frustration,” Clayton acknowledged. “At the same time, they’re confident that they can win at any time. Obviously, losing brings out the negativity a little bit, but I think our kids are tough enough and strong enough to where they have the confidence in each other and their ability to turn it around at any time, so why not a home game against Del Sol?”
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some questioning. They wouldn’t be human otherwise.
“They look at the scoreboard and the record and sometimes put too much stock in it,” Clayton said. “We’ve lost some games, but we’ve been in every game. They know we’re really close to breaking out …”
Let’s stop the coach right there. Been in every game? The Trojans didn’t score a point against Virgin Valley, were outclassed by Coronado before a couple of garbage-time touchdowns made the score look respectable and lost by 20 to a Cheyenne team they defeated by 26 last season. In every game? Sounds like somebody is blowing smoke …
Except there’s this: It looks a lot different standing on the sidelines near the line of scrimmage on every play. The Trojans are competing well game in and game out, but when one team has a slight edge on each play, whether it’s talent, depth, injuries, whatever, that edge is multiplied by the number of plays in a game and ends up looking more one-sided than it actually is.
Virgin Valley was an absolute slugfest. Coronado had 30 more bodies. Cheyenne had a superstar-type player. Does anyone see Del Sol being more physical than Pahrump Valley? Think Valley will have 30 more bodies to get players some rest? Think Western, well, no point even going there. Western has nothing.
Look, the Trojans are 1-5. They should be 1-5. The scoreboard does not lie, and you are what your record says you are. Nobody should give the woulda, coulda, shoulda nonsense, because every team can do that and prove why it’s really a playoff team. Well, not Western, but most other teams. It’s called excuses.
But Del Sol, Valley and Western are perfectly reasonable opponents, and if the Trojans are close to full strength they are in position to win each of those games. Do that and you finish second in the Sunset and get a home game against the No. 3 seed in the Sunrise, which very well could be Boulder City. (Nobody in maroon and gold would object to getting another crack at Boulder City, should the chips fall that way.)
For his part, Clayton has no doubt his players are up for it.
“The way our boys play, they’re playing Trojan football, we’re just not finishing,” he said. “I’m not disappointed in the boys and how they’re playing. They’re playing hard, they’re playing tough, and good things are going to happen if they continue. As a staff, we’re not disappointed in how hard they play.”
Clayton is fond of saying his system requires every person on the field to do his job properly or the whole thing breaks down. It’s why he won’t rush junior varsity kids up to fill holes. He simply believes they are not going to be in a position to succeed, and the result could damage their prospects for future success.
The same also goes for defense. You won’t see anyone with an absurd number of tackles on a Pahrump Valley defense. Last year’s team leader, Dylan Grossell, had just 59 in 11 games while 11 other players had at least 20.
That did not change against the Desert Shields. Senior Joaquin Souza’s 5 tackles led the team, while Neil Redmond, Donnie Miller, Kenny Delker, Caleb Sproul and Fabian Soriano each finished with 4.
The Trojans aren’t going to win many games in which they lose the rushing battle, and Friday was no exception. The Desert Shields not only outrushed the Trojans 343-253, they did so on barely half as many carries. Cheyenne ran the ball 26 times for an average of 13.2 yards per carry; Tony Margiotta had 25 carries by himself, while Pahrump Valley totaled 49 running plays for an average of 5.2 yards per pop.