Strong start: South Tahoe football rolls past Sparks for season-opening victory
SPARKS, Nev. — For the first time in a half-decade, the South Tahoe football team started its season on the right side of the scoreboard. The Vikings kicked off their 2016 campaign with a decisive 49-19 win at Sparks on Friday, Aug. 26.
“It’s awesome,” Vikings senior quarterback Tommy Cefalu said. “We haven’t seen it in a long time at this school and it just feels great.”
South Tahoe (1-0 3A Northern) scored touchdowns on six straight possessions and pitched a second-half shutout to turn a back-and-forth game into a rout Friday night. Cefalu threw for 337 yards and five touchdowns in the victory — three to junior McCallan Castles and two to senior Noah Jackson.
“We knew if we got up on them and had momentum going, it was going to be hard for them to come back,” Cefalu said.
Sparks (0-1) scored first following a Vikings’ fumble, taking a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Nick Van Patten to Michael Anduja. The fourth-and-9 pass put South Tahoe in an early hole — but then the visitors got rolling.
“It’s nice to see that we can bounce back from something,” Cefalu said. “Last year our big problem was that we got our heads down if something bad happened.”
The Vikings needed just four plays to drive 80 yards and take the lead on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Cefalu to Jackson. That score and extra point put South Tahoe ahead 7-6 with 5:39 left in the opening frame, and was the first of six straight drives to reach the end zone.
After a three-and-out from Sparks, the Vikings needed two plays to extend their lead. Cefalu found Castles down the sideline for a 60-yard score, and a two-point conversion run from senior Dylan Gooding made it 15-6 with 3:09 to play in the first quarter.
The Railroaders found the end zone on the next possession with a 59-yard fourth-down run from Jorge Dominguez, but South Tahoe responded offensively to go ahead 22-13. With 10:06 left in the second quarter, Cefalu punched it in from 2 yards out to cap off a nine-play, 80-yard drive.
Both teams traded scores on the next two drives to continue the back-and-forth start. A 4-yard touchdown run from Van Patten closed South Tahoe’s lead to three with 4:20 left in the half, but the Vikings answered with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Cefalu to Castles less than 90 seconds later to make it 28-19.
Toward the end of a first half dominated by offense, South Tahoe’s defense delivered a big play — and took control of the game as a result. Vikings senior Robert Cage recovered a fumble near midfield with 1:09 left in the second quarter, and STHS took advantage.
“We just needed one momentum shifter like that and we knew we’d be good,” Cefalu said.
After the fumble Cefalu completed passes to Gooding and Jackson on consecutive plays to put the ball at the 5-yard line. After a pair of incompletions and a penalty, Cefalu found Castles for a score for the third time in the opening half — the touchdown with 28.1 seconds left in the quarter gave South Tahoe a 35-19 lead headed into the break.
In his first game with the Vikings, Castles made an immediate impact. Lined up against single coverage out wide, the 6-foot-5-inch receiver that moved to Tahoe from Berthoud, Colorado, had five catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns — all in the first half.
“I was surprised that they were just leaving me open like that,” Castles said. “As soon as I got past the defender, I knew [Tommy] was going to give me the ball.”
After the break, South Tahoe struck quickly to turn the game into a rout. Cefalu hit a wide-open Jackson down the middle of the field for a 64-yard score on the second play of the third quarter to make it 42-19.Jackson caught four passes for 124 yards and a score.
Midway through the fourth quarter, senior Jacob Bernal added a 15-yard touchdown run that put South Tahoe ahead by 30 points. The Vikings’ defense held Sparks to 109 yards and kept the hosts off the scoreboard after the break, allowing STHS to win its season opener in comfortable fashion.
“It was just getting those goose eggs,” Vikings senior linebacker Andrew Herrera said. “Coach told us at halftime we needed to wake up. The offense was doing great and the defense had to pick it up. As soon as you get the mood right, everything goes as planned.”
Cefalu finished 11-for-23 passing and five touchdowns through the air to go along with 55 yards and a score on the ground. Bernal ran for a team-high 57 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. As a team, South Tahoe totaled 494 yards in its opener.
Sparks had a different look at quarterback in each half. Van Patten had 40 yards passing, 50 yards rushing and two scores in the first two quarters while Kaige Lewis and Cody McAbee split time after the break. Dominguez had a game-high 121 yards rushing for the Railroaders, who ultimately couldn’t keep up with the Vikings.
“It’s something to be happy about,” Vikings coach Louis Franklin said. “I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot when we watch the film.”
South Tahoe returns to action Friday, Sept. 2, at Spring Creek (1-0) — the Spartans beat Lowry 45-7 on Friday night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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