South Tahoe football beats Fernley in 3A Northern quarterfinals, advances in playoffs
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — For the last decade, a postseason victory was something the South Tahoe football program could only dream about. On Friday, Oct. 28, the Vikings made it a reality.
Third-seeded South Tahoe beat sixth-seeded Fernley 35-7 at Viking Stadium in the 3A Northern League quarterfinals. In their first playoff appearance in 12 years, the Vikings overcame a slow start to advance in decisive fashion.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I can remember,” Vikings senior Noah Jackson said. “Having it come true and getting to live and play another week is a great, great feeling.”
South Tahoe (8-2) got off to the ideal start early on Friday, recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff and driving for a score. Senior Tommy Cefalu hit junior McCallan Castles for a 13-yard touchdown with 9:51 left in the first quarter, and the Vikings quickly went in front.
Fernley (4-6) answered on the ensuing drive when Ren Arroyo — playing quarterback for injured starter Zach Burns — ran for a 4-yard score to make it 7-7 with 7:41 left in the opening frame. From there, the rest of the first half was a choppy, defensive struggle filled with penalties.
Early in the second quarter, the Vaqueros had first-and-goal from the 9-yard line and appeared poised to take the lead. But South Tahoe’s defense stiffened, and on fourth-and-goal a short pass from Arroyo to A.C. Reyes was stuffed a yard from the end zone to keep the score tied.
“Our defense really pulled it together,” Vikings senior Dylan Gooding said. “That was all heart right there.”
In the shadow of its own goalpost, the Vikings’ offense marched nearly the length of the field. South Tahoe drove 99 yards in nine plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run from Cefalu that put the hosts up 14-7 with 6:55 left in the second quarter.
“That touchdown could have changed the game, but the defense stopped them right there,” Cefalu said. “We knew the defense had confidence in us to drive all the way down the field — and we did.”
Fernley took the ensuing drive deep into South Tahoe territory before the Vikings delivered another goal-line stand. On fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Reyes took a pitch wide and cut back toward the inside — it looked like he had a lane into the end zone before Gooding and junior Kyle Leake stuffed the run short.
It was a second straight goal-line stand for South Tahoe’s defense. And it again left the Vaqueros a yard shy of the end zone.
“They made plays at the biggest moments in the first half, which really sucked the wind out of them,” Vikings coach Louis Franklin said. “That was their best shot — and by no means was that our best effort or level of focus.”
South Tahoe took a 14-7 lead into halftime, punctuated by junior Matt Cain making history on the last snap of the first half. Cain intercepted Arroyo as time expired, setting a Vikings’ single-season record with his ninth pick of the campaign.
After an up-and-down first two quarters, the Vikings quickly made the game theirs in the second half. South Tahoe scored three unanswered touchdowns, and had complete control of the contest headed into the fourth quarter.
“We just had to do our jobs and keep working hard,” Jackson said. “We knew points would come as long as we kept our heads up and do what we do.”
The Vikings took the opening drive of the third quarter 50 yards for a score, capped by a 37-yard pass from Cefalu to senior Robert Cage that made it 21-7 — a possession the quarterback called the biggest of the game. After stopping Fernley on fourth down from the 28-yard line on the next drive, South Tahoe added to its lead in five plays.
On third-and-2, Cefalu found senior Noah Jackson wide open in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown that put South Tahoe up 28-7 with 3:47 left in the third quarter. A Fernley three-and-out on the next possession followed by a 1-yard punt gave the Vikings the ball at the Vaqueros’ 28-yard line — and three plays later they were back in the end zone.
Cefalu rolled out and hit Jackson behind the Fernley secondary for a 27-yard score that made it 35-7 with 1:17 left in the third quarter. South Tahoe’s big quarter made the final frame a formality, leaving the Vikings only a countdown away from the postseason victory.
“It’s everything,” Cefalu said. “All the hard work we put in for the last four years, this is why we did it.”
Cefalu finished 19-of-33 passing for 291 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in the win — and also ran for a score. Jackson led all receivers with 112 yards on five catches, Castles had 89 yards on eight receptions and Bernal had 14 carries for 89 yards.
For Fernley, Arroyo ran for 92 yards and a score on 33 carries and finished 4-of-9 passing with 79 yards and an interception — he subbed in for Burns, who was injured playing defense on the second play from scrimmage. The Vikings held the Vaqueros to 62 yards in the second half while pitching a shutout.
“It’s great for the community to see that these kids can do it,” Franklin said. “You get a great group of kids that put in the work and do things the right way, they’ll get rewarded — and that’s really awesome.”
South Tahoe advances to the 3A Northern League semifinals, where it will meet second-seeded Truckee (8-1) on the road Saturday, Nov. 5, at 1 p.m. The winner of the Sierra Bowl rematch will clinch a berth in the Class 3A State playoffs.
“We’re excited,” Gooding said. “We’re coming out hard and we want revenge.”