Painfully close: South Tahoe football loses to Spring Creek in league opener
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — For the South Tahoe football team, its Div. I-A Northern League opener played out in painfully similar fashion to its season debut. The Vikings lost to Spring Creek 33-27 at Viking Stadium on Friday, Sept. 4, unable to recover from a rough third quarter en route to defeat.
“We’re really close, we’re a good team, and we’re going to be OK,” Vikings head coach Louis Franklin said. “We just made too many mental mistakes.”
South Tahoe (0-2, 0-1 I-A Northern) led 20-13 after a back and forth first half. The Vikings had two early chances to take the opening lead, but ultimately came away with no points — a 65-yard punt return by Noah Jackson was negated by a personal foul penalty, then STHS fumbled inside the 10-yard line on the ensuing drive.
Spring Creek (2-0, 2-0) opened the scoring following the fumble, needing just three plays to drive 97 yards capped by a 7-yard run from Jake Davis with 2:09 left in the first quarter. South Tahoe answered just more than a minute later with a trick play to jump in front.
With Mason Cain at quarterback and Tommy Cefalu lined up wide, South Tahoe ran a double pass that resulted in a score. Cain took the snap and pitched it to running back Darren Jackson, who tossed it back to Cefalu — the junior found a wide open Zen Contestable down the field for a 51-yard score that made it 7-6.
“We practiced that all week,” Franklin said. “We try to put something new in each week — a new wrinkle.”
In the second quarter, Contestable extended South Tahoe’s lead with a defensive score. Spring Creek had first-and-goal at the 3-yard line when running back Mitch Owsley lost the ball on a hand off. Contestable scooped up the loose ball and ran it 92 yards to put the Vikings up 13-6.
Spring Creek tied the game on the ensuing drive with a 32-yard pass from Jon Jund to Dakota Larsen, but South Tahoe responded before the break. With 1:27 left in the half, Cain connected with Noah Jackson for a 20-yard score that gave the Vikings a 20-13 lead.
The Vikings had the edge after an even first half, but the second half belonged to Spring Creek. The Spartans received the kickoff to start the third quarter and needed only three plays to score, making it 20-19 after a 33-yard run by Davis.
“We just came out flat,” Franklin said. “We knew with momentum we didn’t want them to score; they did and we came out and just struggled.”
Spring Creek scored twice more unanswered to take control of the game. The Spartans took a 25-20 lead on an 80-yard Davis run midway through the third quarter, and had that advantage later in the quarter when South Tahoe went for it on fourth down near midfield.
On fourth-and-3 from the 48-yard-line, Vikings running back Quinn Ritter was stopped short of a first down. After the turnover on downs, the Spartans marched 49 yards in 10 plays to take a 33-20 lead on a Jund 4-yard quarterback bootleg and Davis two-point conversion with 8:09 left in the fourth quarter.
South Tahoe scored on the next possession, making it 33-27 on an 18-yard pass from Cain to Cefalu with 5:29 to play. But the Vikings couldn’t get the ball back, and fell in close fashion after leading at halftime for the second straight week.
“That’s a team that is supposed to contend with Fallon, and if that’s truly the case then I feel very good about where we’re at,” Franklin said. “But that makes the loss that much tougher because we were that close. We let them off the hook for sure.”
For South Tahoe, Cain threw for 154 yards on 7-of-15 passing with two touchdowns and an interception while Cefalu had 105 yards on 9-of-12 passing. Cefalu started the game and was on the field for seven drives, and Cain appeared in four drives — including the Vikings’ only offensive possession of the fourth quarter.
“We had some receivers go down and that thinned us out,” Franklin said. “Tommy is a better receiver than Mason, so we tried to get the best 11 on the field.”
Noah Jackson led the Vikings with 71 receiving yards and a touchdown on five receptions while Contestable had three catches for 64 yards and a score — all in the first quarter. South Tahoe struggled on the ground, limited to 70 yards while struggling to block Spring Creek inside.
“They did something that was really simple and I didn’t catch it until too late in the game,” Franklin said. “We weren’t using all five linemen correctly. We had a center uncovered and he was trying to seal the A-gap instead of climbing — that’s a rule and I didn’t tell him that.”
Davis delivered a monster performance for Spring Creek, running for 301 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries — the senior did most of his damage on counter plays and also caught five passes for 59 yards. Jund finished 14-for-18 for 177 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“There were no surprises,” Franklin said. “We were aggressive and we like that, but sometimes we were aggressive to a fault when we were running pass stuff. When we blitz, we have to squeeze down and protect the gaps.”
South Tahoe returns to action Friday, Sept. 11, when it travels to play Fernley (2-0, 1-0). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We’re in league, so anything can happen,” Franklin said. “Fernley is a gettable game and we’ll be ready.”