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Trojans Football Notebook: Line play sealed Vikings’ fate

Updated October 29, 2019 - 10:42 pm

It’s impossible to say enough about how dominant the Pahrump Valley line was against Valley on Thursday night. The Vikings had a couple of dangerous weapons, and, if quarterback Jarrett Zibert had a bit of time, there’s no telling how many yards he would have racked up.

But many of Zibert’s passes came on rollouts, as the Valley line was overmatched. And when the Valley defense was on the field, well, it’s not even worth discussing the details. It was a rout.

“I sensed them starting to wear down in the first quarter on both sides of the ball,” senior left tackle Caleb Sproul said. “Left side, right side, just dominating both sides. We were definitely getting it done tonight as a team.”

The 441 yards rushing is not a team record — the Trojans have rushed for more than that in a loss before — but it was a dominant performance by a line that has been missing arguably its best player, senior Armani McGhee, for almost the entire season. But Thursday night, Sproul, Anthony Pearson, Miguel Belman, Jacob Lopez and Anthony Carson, with help from Dylan Severt, were the undisputed stars of the game.

Junior left guard Pearson, whom the Trojans have moved around on the line this season depending on the play, the foe and the health of the rest of the line, consistently found himself far downfield, sometimes on purpose and sometimes just because he got that much of a push on his defender.

“It was a lot of jets that went to the right, so I was trying to get upfield and get a linebacker so we can get as many yards as we can,” Pearson explained.

In the middle, senior Belman has been plagued by leg issues, but he was in good form Thursday night.

“I feel great,” said Belman, admitting that the outcome influenced the answer. “That win was great.”

While this year’s team doesn’t have the depth of a year ago, one thing the Trojans do have is a lot of people who carry the football. And with the ability of that line, almost all of them are productive.

Kody Peugh led the way Thursday night with 135 yards on 15 carries, with Tony Margiotta compiling 96 yards on 20 carries. But behind them were Kenny Delker’s 7 carries for 65 yards and Dylan Wright’s 8 carries for 56 yards, impressive yards-per-carry averages of 9.3 and 8 yards, respectively. Quarterback Roman Roberts averaged 6 yards per keeper, taking away two kneel-downs at the end.

In fact, six players have rushed for at least 100 yards this season for the Trojans.

Clearly, the number of people the Trojans can trot out to run the ball behind that impressive line has been a boon to a team with depth problems almost everywhere else.

“We’re all brothers,” junior Lopez said. “We all play as a unit. We’re not individuals. We all have a trust in each other.”

End zone isn’t always the goal

One of the highlights of the game was senior Neil Redmond’s first touchdown of the season, as he raced 42 yards for a touchdown with 1:31 left.

Except for one thing. On the previous two plays, Valley had used timeouts, and Margiotta’s 4-yard run on third-and-1 had given the Trojans a first down. It was time to run out the clock, not give the Vikings the ball.

The touchdown put the Trojans up eight, but for the second time in six tries the Vikings stopped the 2-point conversion try, meaning they would get the ball back down just one score.

It was the first touchdown of the season for Redmond, who only had 9 carries going into the Valley game. So while it was understandable that he would be eager to reach the end zone, did anybody mention to him afterwards that “falling” inside the Valley 5-yard line might have been a better idea?

After a long pause, “Uhhhh, yeah,” Redmond said sheepishly.

Of course, when you see a big hole and have the speed to take advantage of it, putting on the brakes seems like a silly notion, at least in the heat of the moment.

“Once I saw, I think it was Tyler (Clayton) or Rance (Bill) lead the block, after that I was gone,” said Redmond, who was able to laugh about it once the win was in hand.

“Oh yeah, we had that conversation after it,” Pahrump Valley coach Joe Clayton said. “The interesting thing about that is it’s such a rare occurrence in a football game that it’s not something you teach. They knew not to run out of bounds, but no matter who is running the ball, you’re not expecting one of them to go for a 50-yard run. Then Neil gets the ball, and you’re not expecting him to run 50 yards. It was never in our mind to teach that.

“So when we saw him take off and knew he was going to score, well, when have you ever said, ‘Please, don’t score.’ None of them would have taken a knee, it’s not something we taught them. But you gave them an opportunity to tie it.

The lesson is easier to take once the opponent’s fourth-down pass in the closing minute falls incomplete.

“He was smiling afterward,” Clayton said of Redmond. “‘Do you understand the situation?’ I asked him. And he said, ‘Now I do.’”

An (almost) crucial mistake

By now, anybody who has paid attention the past few years grasps the formula Joe Clayton brings to each game: run the ball; wear down the opposition; use long drives to keep the ball away from quicker, more athletic opponents while demoralizing them; and do not turn over the ball.

Check, check and, um …

The one thing the Trojans cannot do under their game plan happened at what at the moment seemed a horrible time to do it, as Margiotta fumbled after a 9-yard gain on the opening drive of the second half. Instead of a first down inside the Valley 35 up 24-20, the Trojans watched the Vikings go 68 yards on seven plays to take their first lead at 28-24.

“That was devastating,” Clayton said. “All year, that’s probably the biggest sudden (momentum) change. That was a 14-point turnaround, because they scored after that.”

That Valley struck quickly was no surprise; that was what the Trojans coaches had feared going into the game. Valley has outstanding speed and a quality quarterback in Zibert, and the idea of exchanging scores after having the chance to go up by two scores was not a sure-fire ticket to the playoffs.

But then Zibert did something very, very wrong. On third-and-5 from the Pahrump Valley 45, Zibert heaved a pass to nobody in particular. And much like against Del Sol, when a quarterback does that, Wright seems to be in the right place to make him pay for it. His interception gave the ball back to the Trojans, who were nursing a 2-point lead. Eleven plays and 73 yards later, it was again a two-score game and, while it wasn’t yet safe, things seemed to be under control.

At least they were on the Pahrump Valley sideline. On the Valley sideline, the sense that the play was fatal to the Vikings’ playoff hopes was palpable.

But even while the play was going on, panic set in. Apparently, the play called for Zibert to look first for senior wide receiver Isiah Ramirez. But soon after the ball was snapped, the Valley coaches were screaming.

“Isiah ran the wrong route!” one of them yelled, but by the second time he said it, Zibert had floated the ball up into no-man’s land and into Wright’s hands.

“I don’t know what he was looking at,” Clayton said. “He threw it right to Dylan.”

Throwing the ball when he shouldn’t have got Zibert in hot water with Valley coach Quincy Burts, who laid into his senior quarterback hard on the sideline. You could watch a lot of high school football games and not see anyone more angry than Burts was and anyone more shaken up than Zibert was. It was tough to watch.

But the sense that the play was pivotal one was accurate. The Trojans turned that interception into points on Margiotta’s 2-yard run with 3:49 left, followed by Margiotta reaching into the end zone for the 2-point conversion and a 38-28 lead. Each team would score again, but the turnover put the momentum back on the Pahrump Valley side.

Limiting the damage

Valley’s athletic talent was very obvious to Pahrump Valley’s coaches.

“If you notice on film that they are fast, in person they’re really fast,” Clayton said. “Their skill guys are top-notch kids.”

On top of that list is Zibert, who despite a 5-foot-10, 150-pound frame is as talented a quarterback as the Trojans have faced all season.

“We knew he was extremely explosive and fast, and if you remember from last year how accurate he was on his passes,” Clayton said. “He picked us apart last year, and we ran a completely different defense this year and he did the exact same thing.

“He’s just so explosive, oh my gosh almighty.”

Having a talented quarterback is a big plus, of course, but having a talented receiver takes it to another level. And Valley senior Larry Perry is that good. Clayton couldn’t stop talking about a play Perry made on the Vikings’ last scoring drive, when he hauled in a pass on the sideline to give Valley first-and-goal at the Pahrump Valley 1.

“That catch inside the 5, that’s next-level stuff,” Clayton marveled.

If anything, the Vikings didn’t get the ball in Perry’s hands often enough. The 6-foot-4, 165-pounder looked like the best athlete on the field, but he finished with 8 carries for 59 yard and 7 receptions for 64 yards. Then again, with someone as talented as Zibert — who rushed 11 times for 120 yards and completed 13 of 22 passes for 189 yards — perhaps one football isn’t enough. It’s also hard to argue with the results, as the Vikings racked up 420 yards of total offense, not far off the Trojans’ total of 464.

For Clayton, preventing the big play was the goal going in, and the Trojans did a fairly good job of that. Zibert hit Ramirez with a 39-yard pass for the Vikings’ first score, found Perry for 24 yards to start their second scoring drive and raced 45 yards on a keeper that, combined with a penalty for a late hit on the Trojans, set up a 7-yard scoring pass for their third touchdown.

After halftime, a 32-yard pass from Zibert to Ramirez, who finished with 5 receptions for 117 yards, set up a short touchdown run that gave the Vikings their only lead. But down the stretch, as the line continued to get pushed around as the rest of their defense tired, the big plays eluded them.

“We knew on film against Del Sol — and if you looked at the score Del Sol scored 29 points against them in the fourth quarter to win last week — we knew that they weren’t going to be able to handle us in the second half if we’re just pounding them the whole time,” Clayton said. “We were kind of prepared for them to give out. With what we do, we always see that in the second half. We were expecting them to wear down, but not by the end of the first quarter.”

That last statement was a reference to several Pahrump Valley offensive lineman saying they felt the Valley line was weakening before the first quarter was over. Valley’s offense had to keep putting points on the board to make up for that porous defensive line, and it did for a long time. But a football game is longer than the long time they kept up.

“We had a really good defensive game plan going into this game, and I don’t think it would have mattered what scheme we had,” Clayton said. “They had great athletes. We weren’t so much frustrated in our boys, because they gave it everything they had, but they had a good mix. They did a good job of mixing up their play calls. They would run outside, then pass outside, then give it to their fullback up the gut, and for a long time we didn’t have an answer for it.”

Surprise! It’s Moapa

All of the Pahrump Valley linemen asked said the team they wanted to face in the playoffs was Boulder City. It makes sense. Not only does Pahrump Valley consider Boulder City a rival, but the regular season game between the teams was an utter debacle marked by abysmal officiating that ended in a 20-18 Eagles win.

But when Virgin Valley wrapped up an undefeated Sunrise League season with a 28-19 win over Moapa Valley, it sent the Pirates into third place behind the Eagles, ensuring that it would be the Pirates making the drive to Pahrump for Friday night’s playoff opener.

Listening to Clayton, that was the last thing the Trojans wanted. He didn’t even mention the Pirates when asked who he wanted to see in the first round, after being told his players wanted Boulder City.

“That’s a tough one, because I think we match up with Virgin Valley very well, too,” Clayton said of a game that was closer than the 20-0 score would indicate. “That’s when Tony and Armani got hurt. But I’d have to agree, Boulder City is our best chance.”

On the bright side, the Trojans will be ready, at least in the health department. Clayton said the Trojans had 26 players on the sidelines against Valley, which might be a season high.

“We’re pretty healthy,” he said. “For the playoffs we’re going to bring up some of the younger kids that we think deserve to be on the playoff roster. So we’ll probably bring about 30 boys.

“We’re about as healthy as we’ve been all year.”

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