Vernon Fox could have gone for the jugular twice in the fourth quarter Saturday. Instead, Faith Lutheran’s first-year football coach opted to put the game in the hands of his defense.
With the way the Crusaders were playing on that side of the ball, who could blame him?
Faith Lutheran limited Lowry to 74 yards of offense in the second half, and Trent Dolby booted three field goals as the host Crusaders grinded out a 16-8 win in a Division I-A state semifinal.
The Crusaders (11-2), who have won 11 straight games, advance to the state final for the first time and will face Churchill County (10-1) next Saturday at Damonte Ranch High in Reno. The Greenwave, the Northern Region’s top seed, beat Moapa Valley 34-24 in the other semifinal.
“I’m just blessed to work with this great group of young men and outstanding group of coaches,” said Fox, who played in the NFL for eight years. “We came into this game knowing it was going to be a slugfest. I’m proud the defense found a way to win it.”
Leading by eight points midway through the fourth quarter, Faith Lutheran faced a fourth-and-1 at the Buckeroos’ 43-yard line, and Fox chose to punt rather than use the “Beef” formation that was effective in short-yardage situations in the first half.
The decision proved to be correct as Vinny DeGeorge’s coffin-corner kick pinned Lowry (10-2) at its 2 with 6:10 left.
After the teams traded fumbles, the Crusaders drove to the Lowry 10 — Faith Lutheran quarterback Jacob Deaville converted a third-and-long with a key 22-yard scramble — and had fourth-and-2 when Fox sent out Dolby for a 27-yard field-goal attempt. The kick missed, however, giving the ball to the Buckaroos at their 20 with two minutes remaining.
“If you watched the flow of the game, they didn’t have any deep-hitting plays,” Fox said. “(Lowry quarterback Calvin Connors) is a great athlete, but I figured if we put the ball in his hands and make him win the game, I could live with it.”
Connors moved the Buckaroos to the Faith Lutheran 44 in six plays. But on third-and-6, Connors lined up at wide receiver and broke off his route early, allowing DeGeorge to intercept Garrett Naveran’s deep pass with 27 seconds to play.
The Crusaders held Lowry to 201 yards rushing, its second-lowest total of the season and 112 yards below its season average. Connors finished with 140 yards on the ground, including a 50-yard run late in the first half. Beau Billingsley, Lowry’s second-leading rusher, was held to 15 yards on 11 carries.
Lowry totaled 232 yards of offense.
“We had to grind,” Deaville said. “The offense should have punched it in a couple more times. But we knew the defense was stopping them. I love my defense. I can always count on them.”
Deaville completed 15 of 23 passes for 179 yards and one interception and added 41 yards rushing. Fabian Lagudi had a team-high 49 yards rushing, all in the second half, and Keenan Smith finished with 35 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Crusaders a 13-8 lead with 1:59 left in the second quarter.
“We came into this one always being known as just Faith Lutheran,” Deaville said. “We want to be known as the Faith Lutheran people respect. The only way to gain respect is to win the state championship.”
■ Churchill County 34, Moapa Valley 24 — At Fallon, Trent Tarner returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, and the host Greenwave never looked back en route to a Division I-A state semifinal victory.
Churchill County (10-1) never trailed and ended the Pirates’ streak of seven straight appearances in a state final.
Morgan Dirickson tossed TD passes of 4 and 11 yards, and Tarner added a 63-yard TD for Churchill County, which led 14-12 at the half and extended the margin to 27-18 on Tarner’s rushing score.
Moapa Valley (11-1) closed to within 27-24 and had the ball deep in its territory before Tyler Bagby returned an interception 18 yards for a score with about three minutes left.
The Pirates committed eight turnovers, including six interceptions.
Mountain View forced four second-half turnovers in a 24-6 home victory over Battle Mountain in a Division III state semifinal.
The Saints (10-1) will face Yerington (10-0) in the title game next Saturday at Damonte Ranch High in Reno.
Mountain View held Battle Mountain quarterback Daniel Itza, who entered the game with 719 yards rushing and 10 TDs, to 15 yards on the ground. The Saints also picked Itza off twice.
“I felt confident after the first series,” Mountain View coach Mike Valenzuela said. “I could tell that the kids were prepared. The defensive coaches came up with a good plan, and it was something that we could really contain that stud Itza.”
Battle Mountain’s Arturo Serrano fumbled on the second half’s first play, and Ian Locke recovered for the Saints. The Longhorns’ next play also ended in a turnover when Jacob Duldulao intercepted an Itza pass. Mountain View recovered another fumble, and Dylan Duggan had an interception with 14.9 seconds left.
Mountain View didn’t turn any of the turnovers into points, but it didn’t need to. The Saints had moved the ball well in the first half, rushing for 183 yards and taking a 24-6 lead.
Running back Matthew Larson ran for 114 yards and two TDs on 20 carries. He had a 3-yard TD run with 6:56 to go in the first quarter to cap a 12-play, 80-yard opening drive. He added a 1-yard scoring plunge with 51 seconds left in the half.
Locke added 102 yards on 19 carries, including a 35-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds left in the first quarter. Duldulao rushed for 58 yards on eight carries, and Bernard Williams had a 22-yard touchdown run for Mountain View, which finished with 285 yards rushing.
Locke also completed 11 of 15 passes for 127 yards.
“The whole goal at the beginning of the season was to become a little bit more balanced,” Valenzuela said. “We’ve got a kid that I’m pretty confident in. He threw some good balls today, and our receivers are taking pride in their craft, getting some big plays down the field and extending drives.”
Itza finished 13-for-27 for 186 yards. Mountain View got good pressure on Itza, especially in the first half. The lone touchdown for Battle Mountain (5-6) came when Itza avoided several defenders on fourth-and-6 from the 10 and lofted a desperation pass to Ivan Chavira.
“The whole plan was making sure the other guys were going to have to beat us and keep everything in front of us,” Valenzuela said. “Their one score is the exception to it; we let somebody behind us. He’s a terrific athlete, and he had us running around with our hair on fire.”
Mountain View will be playing in the state title game for the third time in four years. But the Saints have come up empty on their first two tries.
“It’s something that we planned on from the beginning,” Valenzuela said of making it to the final. “We were there last year, and we anticipated to see some tough teams along the way, but we’re not going to Reno for the experience. We’re going up there for a win.”
■ Yerington 49, The Meadows 7 — At Yerington, the Lions sprinted to a 28-0 lead after one quarter and rolled to victory in the other Division III semifinal.
Tylor Thomas rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. Reese Neville returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown to start the scoring for the Lions, who also returned a first-quarter interception for a score.
The Meadows (8-3) got within 28-7 on a 1-yard run by Jacob Gleason in the second quarter but didn’t score again.
Gleason completed 15 of 32 passes for 151 yards and was intercepted twice. Matt Biafore had eight catches for 90 yards for the Mustangs.