Need some help for your fantasy football team?
You might want to see if you can add players from Southern Nevada’s high school gridirons, which in recent weeks could rival a pinball machine for scoring.
Entering tonight’s area regular-season finales, the average total of points scored in 143 Class 4A games is 53.4. That’s up by more than a touchdown from five years ago, when the average total in 142 games was 45.
Local coaches chalked up the trend to a combination of factors: the increasing popularity of spread and pistol offenses, more practice time being spent on offense over defense, and large gaps in talent between teams in the same league.
Exhibit A in the shootout gallery is Bonanza, which has won 62-54 and 64-21 and lost 77-44, 74-28 and 57-44.
“When we watch film, we can’t believe it. The high scores are unbelievable,” said Bonanza coach Shawn Dupris, among the roughly one-third of local 4A coaches running a variation of the spread. “I’ve never been around something like this before.”
But it’s not just Bonanza involved in wild games. Forty-six of the 143 games have seen the teams combine to score at least 60 points, compared with only 30 of the 142 games five years ago.
“I don’t think people play good defense any more, to tell you the truth,” Palo Verde coach Darwin Rost said. “The 25 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a lot of good defensive teams. Lately, we haven’t had a lot of good defensive teams.”
Rost said the coaching and talent in the area remain strong but teams aren’t emphasizing defense as much as they used to.
Bishop Gorman coach Tony Sanchez agreed.
“There are plenty of good coaches,” Sanchez said. “It’s the emphasis on offense and not as much on defense. I really think it’s the time you put in on it.”
Sanchez, who came to Gorman from California High in San Ramon, Calif., in 2009, has noticed more scoring in Las Vegas than what he saw in the Bay Area.
“There’s more scoring here,” he said. “When you see games that are 60-50 or 50-40, it’s way too many points in 12-minute quarters.
“One of the big things for the scores I’ve seen is special-teams play. I’ve never seen so many onside kicks on film in my life. Your percentage of scoring when the ball is on the (20-yard line) is a lot less than on the 50. I think you’ve got to make offenses earn it.”
In 15 games involving 4A teams Friday, there were 33 touchdown plays of at least 50 yards. On the season, there have been 55 TDs of at least 80 yards.
One reason for the bloated scoring totals is massive talent gaps between teams in the same league.
A prime example is the Southwest League, which includes Gorman and Pahrump Valley. Gorman had six players sign last year with Football Bowl Subdivision colleges, whereas Pahrump is mired in a 26-game losing streak that includes a home loss this season to Class 2A Mountain View.
“With more schools spread out, there’s a lot bigger difference between the top teams and the bottom teams, and that will always inflate scores,” Basic coach Jeff Cahill said.
Cahill played tight end and defensive end at Basic from 1988 to 1991, when there were fewer than 15 schools in the area, mostly running simple I-formation, run-oriented offenses.
Today, in a landscape of 33 Class 4A programs, Cahill is a coach running a spread offense at his alma mater. So, where has he seen the game change most?
“I think it’s just the overall explosion of the shotgun,” he said. “The success it had at the college level permeated down to the high school level. A lot of it is, you want to get your best athletes in open space, and it’s a great way to do that.”
Kenny White, an analyst on the locally televised “Thursday Night Lights” series of games runs a scouting service called MVP Elite. He said an added benefit of the spread is that high school quarterbacks are more likely to be recruited.
“Any player back 15 or 20 years ago who didn’t have any idea of the (college) offense was going to take a couple years to get comfortable in it,” White said. “Now, kids are running every different offense at the high school level.
“College guys are smart. If they’re running a no-huddle spread option, why would they go after a guy who’s running the Wing-T?”
No team in the state might be more committed to the spread than Faith Lutheran. Crusaders quarterback Joe Portaro has thrown 333 passes in eight games, amassing 2,156 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Faith Lutheran head coach Jacob Kothe played receiver with Kurt Warner at Northern Iowa in the 1990s, and Crusaders receivers coach Marcus Nash was a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos in 1998.
Kothe said that kind of coaching has been key in developing such an intricate offense.
“You can’t just show up in the fall and say, ‘We’re going to throw the football,’ ” he said. “There’s so much timing involved in the passing game.”
But in the era of wide-open offenses, not everybody is going with the tide. In fact, the top two teams in the Northwest League standings, Palo Verde and Arbor View, run the double wing.
“I’m old school,” Rost said. “I believe if you run the football and play good defense, you can win football games.”