Talk to Class 3A football coaches, and two things immediately become clear.
Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley are still at the head of the class, and there’s a group of charter schools on the rise that could take over in the next few years.
“There’s no doubt 3A football is on the rise,” Eldorado coach Darryl Tootle said. “Some of the charter schools are coming up, and SLAM (Nevada) is following the Bishop Gorman model. If you’re coaching football there, it’s a matter of when, not if.”
Moapa Valley and Virgin Valley met three times in 2021, with Moapa Valley winning all three. The first was during the spring at a park in Mesquite that didn’t have goal posts because both schools were waiting for their turf fields to finish being installed.
The Pirates then beat the Bulldogs in the regular-season finale and finished last season by rallying past their rival 27-14 for the 3A state championship at Allegiant Stadium and an undefeated record.
“Moapa Valley has been a fantastic program for the past 20-plus years,” Boulder City coach Chris Morelli said. “They have a fantastic coaching staff and get things done at the highest level. Virgin Valley is the same way. I’d put Moapa Valley up against the majority of the 4A schools, and they’re not afraid to take on the big boys.”
The rural-urban split in 3A is always a dynamic worth watching, but it was the rural schools that dominated in 2021.
Moapa Valley won the Desert League title, and Pahrump Valley claimed the Mountain League crown. But SLAM Nevada showed how far it had come with a win over Virgin Valley, and its eight wins were five more than it had in any of its previous three seasons since the school opened.
Eldorado and Valley were the inner-city teams that captured playoff berths, but they both finished 3-7. Both have new coaches this season, and Tootle in particular is high on his team’s chances.
“It’s always a possibility one of them could make a run,” Moapa Valley coach Brent Lewis said. “For those inner-city schools, it’s consistency they lack. If they can keep the same kids in the program from one year to the next and get the right coach at the school, they’ve got a shot.”
SLAM Nevada is a popular pick to win the Mountain League, and coach Mike Cofer said his team certainly won’t be afraid of anyone, not after last season and particularly the spring of 2021 when it played games against Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran.
While SLAM Nevada showed its potential and that it likely has staying power to be successful in the future, the jury is still out on the other charter schools. Pinecrest Cadence was winless in its first full season, Mater East is set to play its first complete schedule and Somerset Losee is starting its program this season.
“I hope the charter schools end up being good, because it will raise the level of 3A football,” Morelli said. “I hope they don’t turn into a flash in the pan, because they bring a different dynamic.”
Time will tell how the landscape changes in 3A football over the next few years, but Virgin Valley coach Matt Woods isn’t allowing himself time to worry about that.
His focus is on his team and trying to take the final step to win a state title this year.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we do,” Woods said. “Everybody we play is going to be bigger, faster and stronger than us. We just have to be disciplined and do what we do well, and we’ll be fine.”
Class 3A Southern Region predictions
1. Moapa Valley
2. Virgin Valley
1. SLAM Nevada
2. Pahrump Valley
4. Boulder City
5. Pinecrest Cadence