Defense wins championships, and Vikings have a good one
If you have lived in South Lake Tahoe over the past decade and love football, then you haven’t forgotten the last time the South Tahoe High Vikings hosted a playoff game.
In 1991, you marveled at how an undersized but extremely athletic team with few reserves advanced all the way to the state championship game before losing to Eldorado of Las Vegas. That 1991 team was undoubtedly Tim Jaureguito’s best team during his 13 years at the helm of the Viking ship, and in all likelihood, South Tahoe never has suited up a more complete and exciting football team.
However, the 1999 Vikings can start to draw some comparisons to the school’s best team if they can take advantage of their first home playoff game in eight years against Reed on Saturday.
Watching how the Vikings closed the season defensively gives hope that maybe another championship run is in the works. After all, defense wins championships, and South Tahoe hasn’t fielded many consistent defensive units since 1991.
They have one this year, and the offense to go with it. Defense and special team plays allowed the Vikings to win tight division games against Reno and Douglas, securing Saturday’s 1 p.m. home playoff game.
The aptly named “Sierra Swarm” has discovered defensive success comes with numbers to the ball and constant pressure.
“The main thing we’re playing is physical ball,” said Vikings senior linebacker Mario Guerrero. “If we do make a mistake and the guy runs for 12 yards, then he’s going to pay for that. Everybody swarms, and no matter what the score is, we let them know we’re still hitting.”
Four turnovers and an ineffective offense kept the defense on the field more than it should have been in a 30-16 defeat to Northridge of Layton, Utah, on Saturday. The traditional power from Utah 5A realized early it couldn’t throw the ball against the ball-hawking Vikings secondary, led by Matt George and Chris Seals, and only found success pounding the ball behind its large offensive line.
South Tahoe’s improved defensive play has caught the attention of Reed coach Doug Parry, whose Raiders burned the Vikings for 317 total yards in a 40-36 season-opening loss last year in South Lake Tahoe.
“They’ve been very consistent throughout the season,” Parry said. “Both defenses are much improved over a year ago, so it will be interesting to see how the offenses respond to that.”
Parry sees many similarities between the two defenses that have been called upon more this season to win games for their respective programs.
“Both teams play a lot of zone coverages and neither one of us is a big blitz team,” said Parry, who guided his Raiders to the zone finals a year ago before losing to eventual state runner-up Elko. “Philosophy-wise, there are a lot of similarities because we line the kids up and rely on their athletic ability rather than use a lot of stunting and blitzing to make plays.”
The “Swarm” felt that it played well enough to win Saturday. But the offensive breakdowns – five turnovers – prevented the Vikings from entering the playoffs with a three-game winning streak.
Nonetheless, the Vikings are confident and they should be. They have all the pieces to make a title run. Now, they have to want it, and tediously execute even the simplest dive play to make good things happen.
“That Northridge game shows where we’re at,” Guerrero said. “We’ll make improvements, and we’re just looking forward to the playoffs. We’ll be here offensively, defensively and on special teams.”
Adding more fire to the Northern Nevada playoff teams’ intensity this postseason is the prospect of serving as hosts for the Nevada 4A state championship. Past title games have been played at Mackay Stadium in Reno or on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas. But this year the Northern Nevada champ hosts the title game, regardless if the school happens to be located a few miles across the Nevada border in California.
Northridge coach Fred Fernandes came away impressed with South Tahoe and believes the Vikings can make some noise in the postseason.
“I think South Tahoe will do well in the playoffs because they’re so diversified,” he said. “Their offense, you can’t really get any set tendencies, and I pride myself on kind of doing the same thing. There are a lot of teams in our league that you know what’s coming before the ball is snapped. Defending them is a challenge.”
Fans will get to see the league’s most talented quarterbacks – STHS’s Tim Sprinkles and Reed’s Lamar Lee. Sprinkles accounted for six touchdowns the last time the schools met and Lee was benched after three interceptions. Even so, Parry believes the defenses will have more of a say this time and personally, would settle for three or four scores.
“As well as they’re playing defensively, trying to consistently put together 70- and 80-yard drives puts a lot of pressure on the offense,” Parry said. “If we get half of the points we got last time, we’ll be all right.”
That assessment should serve as bulletin-board material for the Vikings offense. After all, if Parry thinks he can win with 18 points, then he must not be too impressed with the Vikings offense.
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