Rhodes leads South Tahoe Vikings defense into battle with Sparks
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Austin Rhodes laid in agony last Friday night just off the gridiron at Viking Stadium.
The senior outside linebacker’s legs had cramps. His calf muscles were in knots. His legs pointed toward the night sky. Being just off the field, officials waited until Rhodes was in a safer place, more removed from the sideline.
“Just drag me by my legs and get me off the field,” Rhodes said to the medical staff treating him. Each painful, stiff leg was grabbed and Rhodes was dragged away.
Rhodes was leading South Tahoe’s resurgent defense and had played much of the night in the Indians backfield, recording four tackles for loss, including a sack.
The Vikings had surrendered just 48 yards in the second half and Elko wasn’t able to move the ball beyond its own 39 through four drives.
But on the next play, with Rhodes on the sideline, along with senior Gio Medina Morales who had just suffered an injury, Elko seemed to know right where to attack. The Indians ripped off a 93-yard touchdown run with just over four minutes left in the game that essentially clinched a 26-14 victory.
“I was in pain on the sideline, but I saw what happened and I was pretty upset,” Rhodes said.
The Vikings (0-2, 0-1 Northern League) were a lot more disappointed in their second loss than they were the first. They felt victory was within reach whereas losing to Bear River on opening night was more acceptable because the Bruins are a traditional juggernaut in Northern California and the Vikings had about 20 varsity first timers.
Rhodes was back at practice this week and will be on the field tonight, Aug. 31, when the Vikings play their first road game of the season at 7 p.m. against Sparks (0-2, 0-1 Northern).
Rhodes has been a vocal leader the past couple weeks at practice, trying to give his teammates a verbal boost that results in more physicality.
“I was seeing a need for a voice on this team,” Rhodes said. “A little motivation is just what a few of these guys need to get going. We have to pick it up. We’re progressing every day, every week, and we’re getting better.”
South Tahoe’s first two opponents were physical rushing the ball while Sparks’ offense is more open. It will be a different style of offense presenting a whole new set of issues. The Railroader offense runs through their quarterback Tyler Green who is also the team’s leading rusher (36 car., 150 yards).
“They are an extremely athletic team. They have their best offense since I’ve been here,” said South Tahoe head coach and athletic director Louis Franklin. “We have to be disciplined in space. This is the first game, we’ll have to play sideline to sideline, and they’re not afraid to throw the ball vertically and have a very mobile quarterback. We have to be disciplined with our eyes knowing whether it’s run or pass.”
The Vikings were stung again by the turnovers in week two, just like the opener. Turnovers happened in consecutive possessions, defining one half of each game they have played.
“We can’t have five turnovers per game and expect to win,” Franklin said. “Unfortunately a lot of those turnovers were mental mistakes. A lot of our interceptions have been receivers running the wrong routes. But we made a lot of progress from week one in a lot of different areas. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is a younger team. Not just saying what grades these kids are in, just playing experience. We’re making some easy mistakes and we fixed a lot from week 1 to week 2, but we didn’t fix enough of them.”
South Tahoe has developed a big three on offense through two games. Sophomore quarterback Jake Tarwater threw for 306 yards last week and senior Kody Griffis caught 14 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Running back James Knudsen has 40 rushes through two games and 102 yards. Elko bottled up South Tahoe’s running game pretty well last week.
“We’re gonna have to have a lot of motivation this week,” Rhodes said. “A lot of kids are looking forward to getting our first win. You either beat up or get beat up.”