South Tahoe football downs Fernley 35-7 in 3A Northern quarterfinals, delivers playoff win
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — For the last decade, a postseason victory was something the South Tahoe football team could only dream about. On Friday night, 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 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.
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.
With the ball back, the Vikings’ offense produced its biggest drive of the season. 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.
Fernley took the ensuing drive deep into South Tahoe territory before the Vikings delivered a second straight 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 senior Dylan 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.
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.
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. 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 third quarter made the final frame a formality, leaving the Vikings only a countdown away from the postseason victory.
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.
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.