Life in the trenches: Greenwave’s starting ‘O’ has been a key factor in the team’s march to a state title game

From left, offensive linemen Sione Otuafi, Damein Towne and Thomas Steele head toward the line of scrimmage against Virgin Valley.

From left, offensive linemen Sione Otuafi, Damein Towne and Thomas Steele head toward the line of scrimmage against Virgin Valley.

Fallon’s success in a string of state football appearances the new millennium has been a story rooted in the trenches.

It may be said linemen receive no glory, but their determination to open holes for a running back or provide pass protection of the team’s quarterback can either make or break a team. Their final test comes Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Carson High School when Fernley, the Northern 3A runner-up, faces defending champ Fallon.

Until 2015, the last time a Fallon football team won a state title came in the mid-1970s when the green and white won three consecutive championships under Greenwave Hall of Fame coach Tony Klenakis.

Current coach Brooke Hill, also a Greenwave Hall of Fame inductee as a player, said the offense stepped up during the 2018 campaign when Fallon posted an undefeated record and defeated Truckee in the state 3A finals.

“That was a question mark this year,” Hill said, when examining the current offensive line that has a blend of returning and new players.

Fallon lost an experienced line in 2018 with a group of seniors led by Ben Dooley, who now plays for Boise State University. Hill said the line has worked hard to duplicate last year’s numbers while enabling Fallon to have an undefeated season in league and so far in the playoffs.

During the 2018 season, the offensive line allowed quarterback Elijah Jackson to pass for 1,996 yards, and the rushing game netted 3,310 yards. Jackson improved his passing yardage this season with 2,278 yards, and the running game, which relied on Brock Richardson and Jackson, gained 2,360 yards.

The Northern 3A’s Offensive Lineman of the Year said consistency has been the key for the starting five, four of them seniors.

“The trench … that’s where we win or lose,” the four-year starter said. “If we don’t stay consistent, that could be our downfall.”

The 6-foot, 3-inch, 295-pound Otuafi has seen the ups and downs during his career. During his freshman year, Fallon gained 3,815 yards in total offense and improved it to 3,024 yards two seasons ago. The offensive line during the past two seasons has put Fallon at the top.

Consistency, said the left guard, is the key.

“If we don’t stay consistent, that could be our downfall,” he pointed out.

As for Saturday’s state game against Fernley, he said the offensive has been working on its blocking schemes and revisiting its first game of the season against Fernley when Fallon held on for a 42-35 win at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex.

“The goal against Fernley is to shut them down,” he said.

The lineman said Fernley poses a similar look to Virgin Valley, which Fallon defeated in the 3A semifinal game on Saturday. The Bulldogs had a strong running game but not passing game.

“If we do our job, we’ll win the game,” Otuafi said.

The Fallon senior, who’s undecided on his plans for next year, confessed the state game means a little more to him because of the natural rivalry and knowing friends who live in Fernley.

Left tackle Thomas Steele said preparation has been ongoing. As with Otuafi, Steele said playing Fernley has added an extra touch to this year’s title game.

“We can’t let ourselves fall into not playing well enough,” he said. “It’s Fernley, but it doesn’t matter who it is. We’ll give everything we got.”

Steele, who was named both a first-team offensive and defensive lineman, said the offense’s job hasn’t changed too much since last year when Steele played as a junior.

A challenge for the line, though, is the latitude Jackson has to either pass or run with the ball at the spur of the moment.

“That’s part of the scheme,” Steele said. “It’s designed to let him do that and follow his leads. It’s just another thing we do on offense.”

Steele, though, said another key to the offensive line’s success has been the development of a brotherhood.

“We’ve had a lot of fun playing this year,” he added.

Right guard James Harmony has great respect for Fernley’s line, which he compares to Fallon’s.

“They have a good bunch of linemen, decent size, all conditioned,” he said. “We’re doing what our coaches tell us to do, like working together on double team.

Harmony said the Wave offensive line has steadily improved during the season, and the blocking assignments have become easier. He thinks the offensive line will play better against Fernley in the state game.

“At the beginning of the year, we had a difficult time because of the way their defense was set up,” Harmony said. “Everyone wasn’t getting their blocks.”

The fourth senior on the line, center Zane Johnston, is amazed how the line allowed the offense to gain almost 5,000 yards. He said the long hours in the weight room and at practice show the results.

“We started in the weight room and worked together. We sat in meetings during the week for the coaches to work with us.”

Johnston said the state championship game will be the final test for the linemen.

“It will be a nice way to go, possible with our second title,” he said.

With Fallon scoring an average of 39.6 points in 11 games, Johnston also said consistency has been a strength.

“I’d say we’ve had our ups and downs, but we make sure we’re working in the trenches together as a line,” he added.

Damein Towne, the lone sophomore on the line, started the season on junior varsity but was called up to the varsity prior to the homecoming game in mid-October.

“I’ve learned a couple of plays we didn’t do on j.v., but I learned once you have been on the line with everyone you become family,” said the 6-4 right tackle.

Within a month, Towne has learned the blocking schemes and said the line’s movement does a lot of pulling. Although Fallon is playing one of its fiercest rivals, Towne said he and the others are treating the championship as another game. The Fallon sophomore said the team that goes out there and makes the fewest errors will be the one that wins.

“I wasn’t on varsity when we played Fernley before, but of places in Nevada, it’s Fallon and Fernley,” Towne said. “It should be a packed game.”


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