There’s an old adage in football that says if you have two quarterbacks you really don’t have one quarterback. But there is no similar saying that applies to running backs, for good reason.
The Pahrump Valley High School football team showed Friday night that the running back-by-committee approach coach Joe Clayton promised in the preseason works.
That the Trojans rushed 36 times for 284 yards while passing three times without a completion is certainly no surprise. But the interesting part is the Trojans used six ball carriers to total those yards, gaining an average of 7.89 yards per carry.
Fabian Soriano and Zack Cuellar each turned in a run of 26 yards, two of the 11 Pahrump Valley rushes that topped 10 yards. Henry Amaya, whose 89 yards and 13 carries led the team, broke off runs of 18, 15 and 19 yards; quarterback Andrew Avena had rushes of 17 and 13 yards late in the game; Soriano also had a 18-yard run, Cuellar an 11-yard jaunt, and Daniel Edghill has a 21-yard carry among his seven rushes for 50 yards.
Daniel Dilone came close to joining the double-digit club, gaining 8 and 9 yards on his two carries.
“Each of them has his own little flavor that he brings to the table,” Clayton said. “Fabian runs the ball really hard between the tackles, north and south. He’s turned into one heck of a running back. When we first started putting him on the offensive side of the ball, we were assuming he was going to be a blocking back.
“Daniel Edghill, he ran the ball really well, made some really good moves, took care of the football. Daniel Dilone, he ran the ball really well tonight, had solid runs.”
While Soriano and Avena are seniors, Cuellar and Amaya are juniors while Edghill and Dilone are sophomores. A four-game season delays their development, but August is not all that far away.
“It’s hard to look at it as spring football, but that’s kind of how we’re looking at it because we know how young they are,” Clayton said. “That’s why we had to pull the reins back and not get too upset at some of the mistakes early on.”
Avena to the rescue
It wasn’t hard to figure out what the biggest problem was during the Trojans’ 14-6 loss to Virgin Valley. If you can’t get the ball from center to quarterback, not much else matters. And while the physical contest with the Bulldogs might have had the same outcome without the numerous fumbles, it sure would have been fun to find out.
Enter Andrew Avena. He played the most out of the three quarterbacks who saw time against Virgin Valley, but against SLAM the job was all his. And the ball went where it was supposed to go.
While Avena didn’t start the season under center, the youth of the other quarterbacks meant there was always a chance he would spend serious time directing traffic in Clayton’s Jet offense.
“Early in the summer, I knew Andrew, if nothing else, was going to be our backup,” Clayton said. “So he got lots of reps early on, which is helping now. He obviously looks like he’s done it before. It was an easy transition for him to take over the reins.
“He’s just a good athlete everywhere we put him. He’s our kicker, punter, quarterback, he’s just an all-around athlete.”
Listed at 5-foot-8 and 162 pounds, Avena doesn’t look the part of starting quarterback. But the Bulls had a size advantage in most places, which brings us to our next point.
Neutralizing the Bulls’ size
When the teams came out for the opening series, a look at SLAM’s players on offense and a look at Pahrump Valley’s players on defense could lead people to smell trouble. When the Bulls held the ball for 16 plays and almost 9 minutes on their opening drive, that smell threatened to become an overwhelming stench.
“They were big, for sure,” Amaya said. “Compared to my size (5-7), they were pretty big. But we stuck with them, we ran hard, and we blocked hard.”
“We knew they had a little bit of size, but I think we dominated them up front,” Clayton added.
Plus, the Bulls’ failure to cash in on that long opening drive gave the Trojans an opportunity to make a statement, and they did exactly that, going 75 yards on eight plays to take their first lead of the season.
“Size is one thing, but I think our strength is where it’s at,” Clayton said. “We talk all the time about it. We just have the strength in the trenches. We told our boys against Moapa and Virgin Valley, and we still believe, that we were stronger up front even in those two losses. The weight room helped us for sure.”
System vs. playmakers
SLAM had some guys who could make plays, there was no doubt about that. The Bulls made enough plays to outgain the Trojans in total offense, 313-284. But it was the plays they didn’t make that made the difference.
SLAM’s junior quarterback, Joseph Kuykendall, is a good one. After starting 3 of 6 for 19 yards, he put together a solid game and finished 12 of 17 for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“Their athletes made plays,” Clayton said. “They made a lot of plays in the passing game, and they controlled the clock the whole first half.”
But when it came to running the ball, things were a bit different. The overall totals — 40 carries, 178 yards — look OK, but on 22 of those carries the Bulls were held to 3 yards or fewer. Senior Braeden Williams, who rushed for 72 yards, was held to fewer than 3 on 13 of 18 carries.
And many of the runs weren’t planned. Kuykendall was forced out of the pocket time after time, and while on some plays he appeared to panic too quickly, the fact is the Trojans would have given up far more than 135 yards through the air if they didn’t send Kuykendall running for his life throughout the game.
“I thought we’d contain their quarterback a little bit better,” Clayton said. “He kind of hurt us with his legs. He was getting first downs, keeping our defense on the field. I knew that he was going to be a handful going into it.”
And the pass defense came up big, especially on that first drive. The Bulls had a first down on the PV 20 when Edghill broke up a pass in the end zone. A holding penalty against SLAM set up second-and-20, and Kuykendall went back to pass on three more plays.
He scrambled for 5 yards on the first, then had back-to-back passes broken up by Avena. After 8 minutes and 45 seconds and two converted fourth downs, the Bulls came away with nothing. The next time they had the ball, they trailed 8-0.
Against Virgin Valley, Avena found Rance Bill for two 20-yard-plus completions on a desperation drive just before halftime. The Trojans did not score, but it’s not every day they complete two passes on three plays for 43 yards. Did that affect the Pahrump Valley coaches’ thinking when the Trojans took over on their own 29 with 2:40 left in the first half?
What are you, new?
The Trojans ran on seven consecutive plays — highlighted by a 17-yard run by Soriano on fourth-and-5 from the Pahrump Valley 49. That put them within reasonable range of the Bulls’ end zone with 28.8 seconds left in the half.
But after a timeout they ran again, prompting another timeout with 20.4 seconds to go. With that little time left, the Trojans decided it was safe enough to throw, but an overthrown ball, a pass batted away inside the 10 and an interception closed out the half.
“We were concerned with not getting into a situation where we might throw an interception or something like that,” Clayton said. “We were trying to be a little conservative because we’ve coughed up the ball a lot. It would have been huge (to score) because we were getting the ball to start the second half. But then when we got to where we were under a minute, sometimes that’s when you do a little too much.”
And that’s not something the Trojans do very often, and when they have done it in the past it has rarely been in a situation anyone was expecting it.
Effect of a short season
People who have been around the program for a while know that Pahrump Valley has three key rivals: Boulder City, Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley. For purposes of this, we will ignore the fact that none of the records against those opponents would suggest a rivalry.
The fact it those four schools often have been aligned together — sometimes in a league with just one other team — and, despite the significant enrollment advantage Pahrump Valley has these days, historically they have been looked at as a group.
But those schools, especially Moapa Valley, have been strong football programs year in and year out. The Trojans’ coaches know going in that they need to be operating like the proverbial well-oiled machine to beat those teams.
And that just can’t be done in a four-game season.
“The big thing with us it takes our offense time to really jell because it is all 11 guys involved in every play,” Clayton said. As much as people enjoy rivalry games, the fact is not having a few games under their belts before taking on the Pirates and Bulldogs hurt the Trojans more than their opponents.
Throw in the Trojans’ youth up front, and the stars just weren’t aligned right. Clayton said that there is a certain regimentation to their preparation each season — early morning workouts, a week at a camp at Southern Utah University, more practice time, then a scrimmage. The Trojans had none of that, and with an offense that requires every person on the field to perform a task properly simply to function, it wasn’t going to be easy.
So, more than even in a normal year, a couple of games before taking on a Moapa Valley or a Virgin Valley would have been welcome. Instead, the Trojans began against the toughest team left on the schedule after the opener against Faith Lutheran was canceled.
Let’s just say that Clayton is feeling much more upbeat about his team going into Friday’s finale against Virgin Valley than he felt before the first time the Trojans met the Bulldogs.
SLAM has an outstanding kicker in Damien Sanchez, and perhaps it cost them Friday night.
The Bulls kicked extra points after their first two touchdowns, and Sanchez boomed both of them. The Trojans — who actually do have a decent leg in Avena — are built to run for 2-point conversions. And to run on first down, fourth-and-37, the first play of a drive, in a driving rainstorm, under a full moon … well, you get the idea.
And they ran successfully on their first two conversions, with Amaya getting the call each time as the Trojans took leads of 8-0 and 16-7. That nine-point lead was crucial; it was a two-score game.
Even when the lead ballooned, briefly, early in the fourth quarter on a 19-yard Amaya scoring run that made it 22-7 — the 2-point run failed — the Bulls would have to leave Sanchez on the sideline at least once if they were going to tie the game.
A 34-yard run by Williams highlighted a 3-minute drive that went 71 yards, capped by a 4-yard keeper by Kuykendall, to pull the Bulls closer. Sanchez’s PAT made it 22-14.
In what was the worst-case scenario for the Trojans, they went three-and-out for the only time in the game, leaving Avena to punt for the only time in the game, and the Bulls took over at their own 30 with 6:03 left. Plenty of time to score, which they did.
This time, Kuykendall made the key plays, taking off on a 10-yard scramble on third-and-7 and then, on one of the rare occasions he had plenty of time to throw, he threw a 36-yard touchdown pass on third-and-6 with 1:56 remaining to make it 22-20.
On the 2-point try, Kuykendall rolled to his right. Under duress and close to the sideline, his options were few, and his pass fell harmlessly at a receiver’s feet.
So while each team scored three touchdowns and made two conversions, the difference was obvious.
Being on the sideline during football games means hearing a lot of everything — a lot of complaining, a lot of coaching and a lot of chaos. But on the SLAM sideline, there was a lot of complaining, and most of it concerned coaches feeling the officials weren’t doing enough to take control of the game.
Over and over, the SLAM coaches could be heard getting in officials’ faces about the lack of flags. And as the game wore on, the cumulative effect of that feeling just made the screaming more intense.
“You’re going to get a player killed,” is a pretty direct criticism, and that’s what was heard after a kickoff return early in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, after several people spent several seconds screaming for a flag, a face mask call against the Trojans moved the ball across midfield.
The criticism was more direct the next time the Bulls got the ball. As they began what they hoped would be the game-tying drive midway through the fourth quarter, a first-down run that garnered 17 yards left the Bulls’ sideline raving. “Did you not see him grab the back of his helmet and pull him down?” a coach asked incredulously. Apparently, he did not.
The Bulls were called for seven penalties during the game, while the Trojans were flagged twice.
Speaking of screaming, don’t
Remember the cones of silence? One of the silliest things on the brilliantly silly spy spoof “Get Smart,” the cones of silence were lowered “for security reasons” during important meetings. Each person at the table would have his head covered by a clear dome, presumably so nobody would hear anything that wasn’t supposed to be heard by just anyone.
Obviously, with the cones lowered, nobody could hear anybody else, and within a few seconds somebody would signal for the silly things to be raised again.
I’ve often wondered if they come in stadium sizes. Just lower a huge clear dome over the bleachers so Mommy and Daddy could watch Junior play without Junior having to hear any stupid things Mommy and Daddy might yell during the game.
Which brings me to Friday night.
One of the cool things about having very few fans in the stands is that you can hear pretty much everything that is said above conversational level from both sidelines. It can be absolutely fascinating.
One of the worst things about having very few fans in the stands is that you can hear pretty much everything that is said above conversational level from the bleachers. Your life is rarely better because of it.
And guess what? When you know exactly who is allowed in to watch the game, you also know that any damn-fool thing being bellowed from the stands came from a parent. No guessing needed.
It does not do me any good to pick on parents, but after three-plus years of hearing some incredibly foolish things from spectators — no, Sir, pass interference is not a spot foul at this level; in fact, it’s not a spot foul on any level except for the NFL. This ain’t the NFL — a very clear, very loud remark aimed at an opposing player just sends the wrong message.
With everyone hearing everything, before you bellow something obnoxious, ask yourself two questions: Is my idiotic remark something I really want every single person in this place to hear, and is my son (or daughter, if it’s another sport) going to be embarrassed hearing my voice pierce the evening sky saying something childish?
Or, skip the questions and just shut up. You know that announcement before the game about conducting yourselves in a positive manner? Sure, nobody actually listens, but it’s supposed to mean something. Not following those guidelines means something, too. And you don’t want to know what it is.
One of the great things about writing sports is I can hide from some of the nonsense that goes on in the so-called real world. If I wanted to hear fact-free crap presented in total ignorance, I’d go to a county commission meeting. For a print version, see this paper’s Voices page.
Besides, when you get right down to it, do you really want to be heard heckling a high school kid?