Two rivals, one title and bragging rights are on the line.
Oh, so is home-field advantage throughout the Division I-A playoffs.
When Fallon and Fernley collide in the Northern DI-A’s game of the year at 7 p.m. today in Fernley, much is at stake for both clubs. Fallon can clinch the outright league title and home-field advantage, while Fernley can clinch a playoff berth and force a tie atop the standings with a chance for the No. 1 seed.
Fallon is 7-0 in league play with Fernley and Elko tied at 6-1. Elko hosts Dayton (4-3) and an Indians win would automatically send Elko, Fernley and Lowry (5-2) into the postseason.
“We have to withstand their emotion at the beginning of the game,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said.
“We try to treat like any other game, but it’s not like any other game,” Fernley coach Chris Ward said. “They will be excited from the get-go.”
Individual matchups are bountiful as well, as quarterback play will be key in each team’s success. Fallon’s Joe Pyle sizzling with four straight 200yard passing games, while Fernley’s Kevin Montgomery uses his legs and arm to move the sticks.
In the backfield, two of the league’s best in the Greenwave’s Nathan Heck and the Vaqueros’ Brian Reyes face off. Heck is second in the league with 909 rushing yards, while Reyes is third with 896.
“That Heck kid … he’s a good runner and we need to contain that guy,” Ward said. “We have to contain their big plays.”
Another key matchup will be Pyle against the Fernley’s secondary tandem of Kenan Mcdonald, who leads the league with four interceptions, and Carlos McIntyre, who has two. Pyle has thrown for 1,285 yards, 18 touchdowns and only one pick.
“He can’t try to do too much in a bug game,” Hill said of Pyle. “(We have to) take what the defense gives us. We’ve been doing a good job of that all year. Don’t try to win the game in the first quarter and don’t let all that emotion get to you.”
Each defense is key as Fernley’s speed-based unit attempts to slow the fast and physical Fallon attack. Likewise, Fallon’s athletic defense must contain the Vaqueros’ option game.
Fernley’s triple-option attack is unique to the Northern DI-A, as every other team uses a power run game or spread offense. The Vaqueros’ offense, though, takes advantage of strengths of their players, especially on the line where Fernley is smaller than Fallon, except for 6-foot-6, 269-pound lineman Tyler Roemer.
The gist of the option, meanwhile, is to always put the defense in the wrong position. Hill said his defensive front must stay disciplined to slow Fernley’s potent attack.
“We got to come out and play smart early,” Hill said. “Their offense puts a lot of pressure on your defense. We have to tackle well and hold our angles.”
While the matchups are enticing, the recent history shows these two clubs are near images of each other.
Fallon routed Fernley, 49-6, in last year’s regular-season meeting, but Fernley nearly derailed the Wave’s run to the state championship in the playoffs. The Vaqueros led 12-6 in the third quarter before Fallon scored 14 unanswered points to hold on for the win.
“You can throw anything you’ve done before out the window,” Hill said. “The atmosphere is going to be good. You can’t get caught up in all that though. The team that can move on to the next thing is probably going to win the game.”
Coincidentally, Fernley’s first loss last season to Fallon was Montgomery’s first career start at quarterback. This season, though, he has played most of the snaps, minus missing the win over Wooster on Oct. 10 due to an injury.
Nevertheless, Montgomery has been efficient under center, although he has only attempted more than 10 pass three times this season, but has completed 31-of-63 attempts for 645 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
Fernley’s dominance, though, is on a speedy running attack spearheaded by Brian Reyes, Kyle Throckmorton and Montgomery. The trio has combined for 1,806 yards and 23 TDs and must be on their game to get past the fast and physical Fallon defense.
“Montgomery is one of the better athletic quarteback’s we’ve seen,” Hill said. “He’s big and athletic … and we have to prepare for him. With Reyes … they truly have a breakaway back.”
Defensively, Fernley relies on speed to shed blocks and flock to the ball. Linebackers Tanner German, Austin Smith and Reyes are an active bunch and lead the team in tackles.
In the secondary, Kenan Mcdonald leads the league with four interceptions, while Carlos McIntyre has two. However, the duo will be facing perhaps the best quarterback in the league in Fallon’s Joe Pyle, who only has one interception this season.
“We have got to make sure to keep the ball in front of us,” Ward said. “We can’t let that speed get behind us. When the ball goes up in the air, we got to make sure to get to the football.”