South Tahoe football exacts revenge against Truckee in 3A Northern semifinals, makes first state appearance in 25 years
TRUCKEE, Calif. — For the first time in a quarter-century, the South Tahoe football team is headed to state. After exacting revenge in a Sierra Bowl postseason rematch Saturday, Nov. 5, “The Year” will continue for the Vikings.
Third-seeded South Tahoe knocked off second-seeded Truckee 28-20 in the 3A Northern League semifinals Saturday at Surprise Stadium. The Vikings’ much-coveted victory over their cross-lake rivals secured the program’s first state playoffs appearance since 1991.
“I never thought this day would come, and never thought the feeling would be this good,” said Vikings senior Tommy Cefalu, who threw for four touchdowns in the win. “It’s better than I imagined and I can’t believe we’re going to state.”
South Tahoe (9-2) had a 14-7 lead at halftime after scoring two unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter. In the second half, the Vikings delivered the big plays necessary to beat Truckee (8-2) on its home field and snap a seven-game losing streak against their rivals.
“We’ve played against these kids since we were 8 years old, so to have the feeling that we conquered them and finally executed everything that was asked of us is so amazing,” Vikings senior Max Schweitzer said. “It’s something new to all of us, and we’re going to have to cherish this moment.”
The Wolverines opened the scoring on the second drive of the game, but the Vikings pitched a shutout for the rest of the first half. Junior Matt Cain intercepted his 10th pass of the year late in the first quarter — adding to his single-season school record — to give South Tahoe the ball in Truckee territory.
The Vikings found their offensive rhythm after the pick, driving 42 yards in six plays to tie the game. Cefalu completed a 9-yard fade to junior McCallan Castles — the first of three scores for the duo — that made it 7-7 with 10:37 left in the second quarter.
“I was so jacked up that I was going to catch it no matter what,” Castles said. “I wasn’t even thinking about the coverage when I caught it.”
Late in the first half, South Tahoe found the end zone again to take its first lead of the game. Cefalu hit senior Noah Jackson for an 11-yard score with 1:33 left in the second quarter, and the Vikings took a 14-7 advantage into the break — after scoring, Truckee had three first downs and 34 yards combined in its last four first-half drives.
“They threw some new stuff at us and it was a big challenging to readjust,” Schweitzer said. “But after that, they couldn’t seem to get anything going on us.”
The Wolverines took the opening drive of the second half 65 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown, tying the game on a 2-yard run from senior Cole Harrity and extra point with 6:42 left in the third quarter. South Tahoe came up with an answer on the next possession to go back in front.
The Vikings marched 85 yards in 10 plays to retake the lead. On first-and-goal one play after senior Dylan Gooding broke loose for a 38-yard run, Cefalu connected with Castles for a 4-yard touchdown that made it 21-14 with 3:24 left in the quarter.
Truckee found the end zone on the next drive, scoring on the first play of the fourth quarter. Wolverines senior Jayden Commendatore ran in a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 11:57 left in the game, but a missed extra point kept the Vikings ahead 21-20.
With a slim lead and a state berth in the balance, South Tahoe’s offense produced a second straight scoring drive — its biggest of the season. The Vikings converted on third down three times during a 13-play, 61-yard drive, and Cefalu hit Castles on a 3-yard slant to cap the march and give the visitors a 28-20 lead with 6:43 to play.
The Wolverines drove the ball to South Tahoe’s 29-yard line on the next possession before two holding penalties sandwiched around an incomplete pass led to a third-and-long. On third-and-20, Commendatore was chased down and sacked by senior Max Schweitzer — the 9-yard loss forced Truckee to punt on fourth down.
“I knew it was pass, so I rushed to the outside,” Schweitzer said. “The quarterback didn’t see me — I’d been pressuring all day, so it was about time I got an actual sack.”
After getting the ball back, South Tahoe ran out the last 2:00 to preserve the victory. As time expired, the Vikings celebrated in a frenzy at midfield along with the student section that rushed down from the stands.
“Everyone knew what was on the line and we all played as hard as we could every single play,” Jackson said. “We left it all on the field and came out with the win.”
Cefalu finished 21-of-30 passing with 201 yards and four touchdowns in the win, and dissected Truckee with a performance that included only two completions of more than 14 yards. Jackson had a game-high 10 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown, and Castles caught eight passes for 67 yards and three scores.
“They outcoached us and our kids played nervous in the first game — this time we executed the game plan well and the kids played without fear,” Vikings coach Louis Franklin said. “They believed and they did it.”
On the ground, South Tahoe ran for 142 yards led by senior Jacob Bernal’s 78 yards on 14 carries. Gooding ran for 65 yards on six carries — and totaled 81 yards on nine touches.
“Being able to run it and having that choice this game opened up everything so much,” Jackson said.
The Vikings held Truckee to 169 rushing yards in the playoff rematch, after allowing 374 yards on the ground in the teams’ first meeting. Senior Wulfe Retzlaff ran for 80 yards on 14 carries and Harrity had 63 yards rushing on 13 attempts for the Wolverines — Commendatore finished 8-for-15 with 104 yards and an interception.
The Vikings’ first trip to the state playoffs in 25 years will begin in the 3A State semifinals against Southern top seed Desert Pines (Las Vegas) (10-1) on Saturday, Nov. 12. Northern top seed Spring Creek (10-1) hosts Southern second seed Chaparral (Las Vegas) (6-5) in the other semifinal — both games are scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.
“This is everything to us,” Cefalu said. “We’ve wanted this so bad for these last four years, and it’s finally here. It’s the greatest feeling ever.”