South Tahoe football renews Sierra Bowl rivalry with Truckee in season finale
The South Tahoe football team takes the field for the last time this season on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 31. And the Vikings will look to finish the 2015 campaign with a win over their cross-lake rivals.
“The rivalry is a big deal,” Vikings senior Zach Shearer said. “We’re both going to be fighting very hard.”
South Tahoe (4-5, 4-4) travels to play Truckee (4-5, 4-4) for the annual Sierra Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Both teams enter the season finale with identical records, and they would love nothing more than to take down their rival en route to a top-half finish in Div. I-A Northern League.
“The rivalry game is a must-win game,” Vikings coach Louis Franklin said. “There’s something about the importance of these games that these kids realize, but they might not realize fully until later.”
The Vikings are playing their best football of the season, winning four out of their last five games after an 0-4 start — including a 63-21 rout of Sparks last Friday, Oct. 23. The Wolverines beat Wooster 31-20 on the road last Friday to end a two-game losing streak; both teams’ losses have come against the league’s top four.
“We made some silly mistakes early on, but that’s football — it’s not a baseball season or a basketball season,” Franklin said. “That’s the beautiful part of this sport, you get one chance and that’s it.”
South Tahoe and Truckee have met in the regular season finale in each of the last five seasons, with the Wolverines winning all five meetings. After suffering four lopsided defeats in the series, the Vikings fell 22-19 in heartbreaking fashion last season; STHS led a 16-point halftime lead slip away en route to a narrow defeat.
“The seniors and returners want it the most, especially after last year — we want it very bad,” Shearer said. “That’s the most memorable game from last year. We want to win this year and get that bowl back.”
The Vikings offense has averaged 42 points per game during the last five contests, and the uptempo attack has hit its stride down the home stretch of the season. The unit quarterbacked by Tommy Cefalu expects a physical challenge against a Truckee defense led by junior middle linebacker Wulfe Retzlaff (115 total tackles).
“They just play aggressively to the ball,” Franklin said. “They don’t do a lot of exotic or fancy things, they just do what they do really well.”
Cefalu threw for 404 yards and six touchdowns last week against Sparks to reach the 2,000-yard plateau for the season. The junior has 2,014 yards and 20 touchdowns in seven games as the full-time starter — Zen Contestable (33 catches, 507 yards, nine touchdowns), Shearer (27, 470, three) and Noah Jackson (25, 371, seven) are the biggest threats in the passing game.
“We’re confident what we’re doing,” Franklin said. “The decisions we’re making are faster, they’re playing faster — and the speed and reactions of what they are doing is better.”
South Tahoe will look to exploit Truckee in the passing game while keeping a balance offensively. Quinn Ritter leads the Vikings with 522 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 88 carries, and Dylan Gooding is coming off a 126-yard performance.
“It’s going to be really hard to get a gain of 20 yards against this team, but there will be opportunities to move the ball,” Franklin said. “They’re going to test our patience offensively.”
The Vikings’ defense got back on track last week after a rough game against Elko, limiting Sparks to a pair of offensive touchdowns and pitching a shutout in the second half. Truckee has run the ball on 65 percent of its plays this season, and averages a balanced 194.9 yards on the ground and 144.4 through the air.
Cole Harrity leads the Wolverines with 413 yards rushing and five touchdowns, and is one of three junior backs that share the load along with Carson McCarron (371 yards, two TDs) and Retzlaff (221, seven). Quarterback Tyler Davis has thrown for 1,258 yards, eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season — and he went 13-for-15 passing against Wooster last week.
“You know what they’re going to do, and they just feel like they’ve been doing it for so long that they’re confident in it,” Franklin said. “They want to go three yards, five yards, three yards and just keep moving.”
Neither South Tahoe nor Truckee will make the playoffs this season, giving Saturday’s Sierra Bowl the feel of a postseason game. Though the Vikings and Wolverines play in somewhat contrasting fashion, they are evenly matched — setting the stage for an entertaining finale.
“This is our last one,” Franklin said. “We know it and we’re going to have fun it.”
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