Vikings post memorable 24-23 homecoming win
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – For the South Tahoe High Vikings, it was a homecoming football game that won’t fade from memory.
They won’t forget senior defensive back Rigel Garman stepping in front of a Dayton receiver to make an interception at the Viking 11, preserving South Tahoe’s 24-23 upset victory Saturday.
They’ll remember junior tailback Jacob Stowell embracing a 41-carry workload for 214 yards behind an offensive line comprised of Roger Ripoli, Wade Norberg, Kris Hurwitz, Lucas Espinoza, Kent Rowland, Chris Peterson and Alex Ortega.
“It’s the most exciting feeling I’ve ever had in my life to play a game like that,” Stowell said.
They’ll tell their grandchildren that the memorable game began with the game ball being helicoptered to midfield.
“They probably came in a little overconfident,” said STHS coach Kevin Hennessee. “Our kids are still figuring out what they are capable of, and we’re trying to get them to believe in what we’re doing. This is a huge step in the right direction.”
Dayton dropped to 2-3 overall and 1-3 in the Northern 3A League, while South Tahoe raised its record to 2-3 overall and 1-2 in league.
As soon as the delayed opening kickoff was booted, Dust Devils’ running back made like a copter and quickly lifted his team into the end zone. Onstott broke off a 72-yard run down the Dayton sideline on the second play from scrimmage, giving the Dust Devils a 7-0 lead.
But South Tahoe didn’t let the big play snowball, and the emotion quickly disappeared from the Dayton sideline.
“I don’t know if we took South Tahoe too lightly or whatever the reason. We just weren’t ready to play,” said Dayton coach Rick Walker.
Dayton’s offense was disrupted for the remainder of the half, partly by a swarming Vikings’ defense and injuries to Onstott and quarterback Kage Walker. Walker quickly returned after his injured ankle was taped, but Onstott only carried one time after his long touchdown run before collapsing on the sideline with a knee injury. He didn’t return until the third quarter.
South Tahoe kept its offensive game plan simple, repeatedly running Stowell behind an offensive line that responded better to run blocking than pass blocking. Stowell capped an eight-play, 59-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run.
“I just keep moving my feet, and I have a great offensive that loves me and I love them,” Stowell said. “This whole week practice was great. We’ve had the most energy in practice that I’ve seen in a while, and we just knew what we wanted to do.
“In that first quarter we smashed it in their mouths. I think they got tired, and we kept punching.”
The Vikings kept their momentum going by catching Dayton unaware when holder Garman rolled out and passed to a wide-open Andrew Contaxis for a two-point conversion and an 8-7 STHS lead.
“He made a bunch of plays,” Hennessee said of Garman, who caught six passes for 57 yards – many of which kept STHS drives alive.
A Dayton turnover on a muffed punt gave South Tahoe possession at the Dust Devils’ 17 with 3 minutes, 59 seconds left in the half. The Vikings quickly made Dayton pay as two runs by Stowell moved the ball to the 10, setting up a six-yard scoring pass from Tyler Nesbitt to Marshall Curtzwiler.
“He’s just getting going,” Hennessee said of Curtzwiler, who came out late for the team following a family tragedy. “That’s wasn’t an easy catch either.”
Nesbitt tacked on a two-point conversion pass, giving South Tahoe a 16-7 halftime lead.
Dayton came out of an extended homecoming halftime and stole the momentum from the Vikings. Dusty Smith tackled Vikings’ punter Ortega in the end zone for a safety, making the score 17-9 with 10:27 remaining in the third quarter. But the Dust Devils couldn’t sustain that emotion after a 21-yard reception by Smith moved Dayton to the Vikings’ 20. Three straight incomplete passes following a three-yard loss returned possession to South Tahoe.
After each team failed to move the ball, the Vikings extended their lead to 24-9 by moving 55 yards in seven plays. An 11-yard rush by Stowell and a 11-yard reception by Garman on fourth down set up Stowell’s 23-yard touchdown run down the home sideline. Nesbitt converted South Tahoe’s third two-pointer, running the ball in from the 3 with :44 left in the third period.
But Dayton didn’t crack.
Logan Jones turned a simple out pattern into a 59-yard scoring play, using a crunching block by Conner Oliver to bolt into the end zone. Oliver caught a two-point pass from Walker as Dayton pulled to within 24-17 with :17.1 to go in the third period.
Behind Onstott and Walker’s playmaking Dayton drove toward the potential game-tying score midway through the final period. Two late hits by the Vikings aided the 79-yard drive, which culminated in Houston Bernston’s two-yard TD run with 5:21 remaining. Walker elected to go for a tying kick, and Oliver missed the boot to his right as Stowell applied pressure from the outside.
“Conner’s been money. He’s been kicking 50-yard field goals in practice,” coach Walker said. “He just pushed it.”
Dayton got the ball back one more time and threatened to pull out the victory. Walker’s 38-yard strike to Oliver set up Dayton at the Vikings’ 29. But Garman delivered the game’s biggest play, stepping in front of a crossing Smith to make an interception at the 11.
“I felt like our team picked it up on our last defensive drive, and I got an opportunity and I took it,” Garman said. “If anybody else had that moment, they would have done the same exact thing.”
South Tahoe was able to run out the clock despite having to cover two fumbles.
The Vikings will travel to Elko on Friday with a chance to even its Northern 3A League record. The following Friday South Tahoe is scheduled to play host to Sparks in the school’s home night game.
“If we have this momentum in any of our games in the future, we’re going to win,” Garman said.
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