The North Lake Tahoe Mitey Mite and Pee Wee Rams dazzled and electrified their home crowds against Douglas and Sparks this past Saturday.
Facing perennial powerhouse Douglas, the Mitey Mites opened with Riley Rau's 60-yard ramble to the end zone on the first play from scrimmage. The game locked down into a defensive struggle with Douglas managing only two touchdowns.
Defensive tackle Richard Baker took over for the Rams on defense with several tackles. In what's becoming a staple of the Mitey Mite Rams season, never-say-die heart and determination prevailed when quarterback Dylan Cleary swept left down the sideline for a score to bring the Rams within two points.
Elated Mitey Mite Coach Tim Cleary had high praise for the offensive line. "Left Guard Jack Reber led the offense with tremendous blocks that made those touchdowns possible," he said.
With too little time for hope of another Rams possession, 9-year-old Daniel Mendoza stepped into the spotlight to attempt the first kicking point-after conversion in Ram Mitey Mite history. With tension thick, Mendoza's kick went up long and high, but missed outside the left upright by 2 feet.
Rams Association President Scott Wilderman clarified, "Pop Warner rules give two points for a kicked conversion because it is so difficult for kids this young."
"Kicking for points is virtually unheard of at this level," Cleary added, "but with Daniel's leg and composure you can expect to see us expand our game plan. What an amazing effort!"
The Pee Wee Rams followed with a 14-13 win over visiting Sparks Steelers.
The Rams struck early with a 60-yard bomb from QB Haeden Suter to wide receiver Keenan Collier. Solid pass protection from an improved offensive line gave Suter the time she needed and kept the Rams running game moving.
Big efforts from linebackers Liam Nolan-Bowers, Rain Larrabee and Ben Ropers and the whole Rams defense kept the Steelers attack in check.
"All you need is Kevin Perez at nose guard terrorizing the center and linebackers can clean up," said Rams head coach and defensive coordinator Scott Wilderman. "Micheal Hartman is a QB, and at middle-backer, he and Noah Cleary call the blitz packages and run that defense like an offense."
Winston Pretti proved the comment true on a daring punt return down the screaming Rams sideline that put the ball on the Steelers 5-yard line.
"John Madden once called it the 'No! No! ... Go! Go!' play,'" Wilderman said. "On a punt like that we normally let the ball roll out. Winston came at it and took the one-hopper in his hands at full speed and I caught myself yelling, 'No, no, no, no ... go, go, go, go,' just like Madden. That kind of stuff will make a coach crazy at practice, but when a kid has that kind of focus and guts, it's a riot during a game!"
The offensive line's blocking created an easy opportunity for Keenan Collier to go into the end zone standing on a reverse back to the Rams sideline for his and the team's second score. Eleazar Santiago tacked on two points with a booming PAT off a perfect snap and hold from Perez and Hartman, and the Rams went into the half leading 14-6.
"I was just so happy to see it go through," Santiago said of the PAT.
The second half was a defensive struggle where the Steelers held the Rams and scored on a big sweep play. Lacking a kicking game of their own, the Steelers were forced to run in for one point and hope for another shot with the ball. With 2:41 left, the Rams again had possession but stalled, giving the Steelers a last shot with 1:06 remaining, two timeouts and 65 yards to go.
The Steelers ran a no-huddle, spiked the ball three times and threw seven passes, but in the end the Rams held. With time for only one last play, Perez attacked, forcing a fumbled center-QB exchange.
"It was the longest 66 seconds of my life," Wilderman said, shaking his head after the final buzzer. "It's fantastic to have exciting games, and the whole experience is really great for the kids and everybody.
UP NEXT: The Rams Mitey Mites head to Carson City for a 1 p.m. game Saturday against the Senators. The Pee Wees are under Friday Night Lights at 7 p.m. at Incline High, hosting cross-lake rival South Tahoe. For more information visit www.northtahoepopwarner.com.