South Tahoe football stuns Fernley in home debut, wins despite key absences
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The South Tahoe football team took the field shorthanded for its home opener Friday, Sept. 9. Against Fernley in a 3A Northern League contest at Viking Stadium, the hosts didn’t seem to notice.
In their home debut, the Vikings routed the Vaqueros 36-8 despite missing their starting quarterback and middle linebacker. Junior quarterback Peyton Galli threw three touchdowns in his first varsity start and South Tahoe’s defense played stout against Fernley’s triple option as part of a complete victory.
“We knew we were going to come out and lay the hammer no matter what,” Vikings senior Tyler Ritter said. “We knew everyone would step up and we’d fill the shoes.”
South Tahoe (2-1 3A Northern) had a 22-8 lead after a wild first half, and tacked on a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. The Vikings hadn’t beaten Fernley (1-2) since the teams became league mates in 2010, and ended that six-game losing streak with stunning ease.
“It’s a big win for the kids,” Vikings coach Louis Franklin said. “We have to enjoy the taste and try to duplicate it next week.”
The first two quarters Friday night featured seven combined turnovers — including five in the second quarter — a successful onside kick attempt by the Vikings and a botched punt that turned into an interception return for a score. All that added up to South Tahoe taking a 14-point advantage into the break.
Early in the second quarter, the Vikings produced the first score of the game in unlikely fashion. Fernley’s Sam Ramirez fielded a low snap on a punt attempt and judged that he didn’t have time to get a kick away — so he tried to make a play with his arm.
Ramirez floated a pass that landed in the waiting arms of Ritter. The senior safety returned the errant throw 40 yards for a touchdown, and a successful two-point conversion put the Vikings ahead 8-0 with 10:09 left in the half.
“I thought he was going to punt it, and out of nowhere I saw him drop back and throw the ball for no reason,” Ritter said. “I decided I might as well go up and get it — I was watching for the fake, and I guess I was in the right spot.”
Fernley would tie the game after a South Tahoe turnover, but the Vikings quickly responded. The hosts marched 71 yards in four plays, capped by a screen pass from Galli to senior Robert Cage that went for a 19-yard score and made it 15-8 with 3:20 left in the second quarter.
“Tommy [Cefalu] is down, it’s my job now and I’m trying to be here for all the guys — we’re a family,” Galli said. “I believed in these guys and I knew we could get it done.”
In the last minute of the first half, South Tahoe capitalized on junior Matt Cain’s second interception of the half to add to its lead. On the next play, Galli threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to junior McCallan Castles that made it 22-8 with 25 seconds on the clock.
“Peyton is an alpha male stud, and we never worried about his confidence,” Franklin said. “He’s a gamer.”
The Vikings went into halftime ahead by 14, but not before delivering a defensive stop. Fernley drove the ball to the 8-yard line with four seconds left in the half, but pressure forced quarterback Zach Burns into a throw that sailed out of the end zone as time expired.
“It felt like we were doing what we’re supposed to do,” Vikings senior linebacker Gabriel Bueno said of the two-score lead. “We came out after halftime, didn’t let up and finished up strong.”
In the third quarter, South Tahoe scored two touchdowns in less than two minutes to take a commanding 28-point lead. Senior Jacob Bernal ran for a 5-yard touchdown with 3:13 left in the quarter, then Galli found Castles for a 44-yard score on the first play after a Fernley interception.
On his second score of the night, Castles made a leaping catch at the 8-yard line before dragging his defender that distance into the end zone. The junior led all receivers with a game-high 129 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions.
“It’s nice to throw to someone that’s 9 feet tall,” Galli joked of the 6-foot-5-inch Castles.
Castles’ touchdown punctuated the victory, and Fernley didn’t get any closer in a scoreless fourth quarter. South Tahoe delivered a decisive result without senior quarterback Tommy Cefalu, who was in a cast on the sidelines at kickoff, and senior linebacker Andrew Herrera, who suited up but didn’t play due to a leg injury.
“We can face adversity no matter what hits us,” Ritter said. “We’re real this year — it’s no fake South Tahoe.”
Galli finished 11-for-21 passing with 179 yards, three touchdowns and one interception Friday. The junior never seemed flustered in his first varsity start.
“It’s fun playing out here,” Galli said. “I love playing in front of everyone and I love playing for these guys — there were no butterflies.”
On the ground, Bernal ran for 93 yards and a score on 17 carries while senior Dylan Gooding had 52 yards on five carries. South Tahoe finished with 331 yards of offense, moving mostly through the air in the first half before giving way to the running game after the break.
“It was simple — throw it to the big guy and run the ball,” Franklin said.
Defensively, South Tahoe forced six Fernley turnovers and held the Vaqueros to 151 yards — including 46 in the second half. The Vikings read their keys consistently all night long, anchored by edge-setting cornerbacks Cain and Cage on the outside.
“We just had to learn our keys, do our job, and go out there and shut them down,” Bueno said. “It was like we practiced all week.”
Burns finished 4-for-14 with 28 yards and three interceptions, and had 19 yards rushing on 17 carries. For South Tahoe, it was a strong performance defensively after surrendering 51 points the week before at Spring Creek.
“Defensively, we wanted to pick the team up — and it was great to watch them do that,” Franklin said. “It was keeping it simple on defense. I saw the kids play with a level of confidence and a speed that they hadn’t in a while.”
South Tahoe returns to action Friday, Sept. 16, at home against Fallon (2-1). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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