The secret behind Nevada football's elite Class 3A defensive line
Nevada had a simple game plan on defense heading into Friday's tussle with Algona — a battle between two top-10 teams in Class 3A at Cub Stadium.
Get to Bulldog quarterback Tyler Manske.
And they did just that during their win to improve to 7-0 on this special season. With speedy weakside defensive end Gavin Melohn leading the way, the Cubs sacked Manske six times en route to a 28-14 victory.
"We were trying to get back there (in the backfield) as much as possible," Melohn said. "We knew he has an arm and we were just trying to take that away."
Manske is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the state. He ranks third in 3A for passing yards with 1,493 and also has 266 rushing yards on the season. He is the Register's No. 47 in-state 2022 prospect, with offers from Drake and Wayne State.
The Algona quarterback had his moments on Friday. But ultimately, he was held in check, finishing with 232 total yards and one turnover.
Melohn was the driving force behind the Cubs' aggressive play up front. He had 2.5 sacks and several other quarterback hurries.
"Early on I noticed a lot of their offensive line's tendencies," Melohn said. "I took advantage of that and was in the backfield eating. I got to the quarterback quite a bit and then we made plays."
Manske finished 73 yards shy of his average total yards per game. Algona's 14 points were its fewest of the season and less than half of its average of 33 points.
"Gavin did exactly what we needed him to do," Nevada head coach Andrew Kleeman said. "He put consistent pressure on the quarterback and ran down ball-carriers the entire game. He has the ability to change games and create momentum for us."
Melohn now has 26 tackles on the season, including 9.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.
And, from those numbers, you might expect something different when you see him.
Melohn is 5-feet-8 and 207 pounds of pure dynamite. He makes up for his lack of size with explosive athleticism, a quick burst off the line and tremendous overall speed.
"Aggression and toughness are the two keys to being a good defensive lineman," he said. "If you have those two things, you're probably going to be a good lineman."
Melohn also has a fumble recovery this season, which he returned 32 yards for a touchdown in a 56-14 homecoming win over Gilbert Sept. 24.
The ability to put up those lofty numbers didn't happen overnight for Melohn.
"I was in the weight room every day and open gym every day putting in the work," Melohn said. "Now it's paying off on the field."
It also helps to have talented teammates on the defensive line so he doesn't draw extra attention from the opposition. Nevada easily leads 3A in sacks as a team with 22. The next-highest total is 17 by Central DeWitt.
"We have a lot of players who contribute on our defensive line," Kleeman said. "I credit coach Cary Thompson and coach Brook Thompson, who have done a great job of having personnel groups that best fit our ability to stop the run as well as create a pass rush. We have a lot of kids who can make plays."
Connor Schnettgoecke plays the strongside end opposite of Melohn.
Schenttgoecke doesn't have Melohn's speed or quickness, but at 6-4 and 230 pounds, he brings plenty of size and power to the table. And he's just as effective. Schnettgoecke has matched Melohn with six sacks on the season and he's recovered two fumbles.
"All offseason we pushed each other harder and harder knowing what we had this year," Schnettgoecke said. "We knew this year was gonna be special for both of us and that we were gonna have to hold down the defensive line together."
Melohn and Schnettgoecke are tied for the second-most sacks in 3A behind Carroll's Tanner Pontow, who has eight.
"I think we are one of the best duos in 3A," Schnettgoecke said. "We both help each other get our sacks because we are both applying pressure to either side, which will force quarterbacks to go to one side or the other."
Melohn and Schnettgoecke will be called on to disrupt another great quarterback this week. The fifth-ranked Cubs go on the road to face seventh-ranked Humboldt and Wildcat quarterback Caden Matson in a battle of 7-0 teams sitting atop 3A District 2.
Matson ranks second in 3A with 1,625 passing yards and he also has 932 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. He's protected by an offensive line led by Benjamin Kuehnast,the Register's No. 22 in-state prospect with a variety of offers from FCS and Group of Five schools, with help from tight end Tayeton Lohaus, a junior tight end who just visited South Dakota over the weekend.
"We are both very excited to face off against two Division I prospects they have on their line," Schnettgoecke said. "We are ready for the challenge ahead."