STHS homecoming win slips away in final minutes
A chilly hint of winter didn’t keep a decent crowd away. An energetic Viking band, anticipating an upset victory, was jamming to the metal band ACDC. Students buzzed about their after-game plans.
South Tahoe’s annual homecoming game had everything but a victory. And if South Tahoe and Hug high schools would have played 44 minutes instead of 48, the Vikings would have had that, too.
However, Hug ruined the spirited school celebration with a 10-point outburst in the final 4 minutes and 16 seconds to pull out a 24-21 Northern Nevada League Division II win in South Lake Tahoe.
The loss knocked the Vikings (0-4 in division and 2-4 overall) out of playoff contention, while Hug (2-2 in division) remained in the hunt for one of the division’s four postseason slots.
“I was gonna go to homecoming and have fun, but it’s not really a big deal. The game was a big deal,” said Viking tight end/linebacker Corey Martin, who was voted homecoming king at halftime.
Losing homecoming seemed out of the question when John Giannoni started his homecoming dancing early with an electrifying 92-yard kickoff return with 9:37 remaining. Carlos Romero’s third extra-point put the Vikings ahead 21-14.
“I felt I was due, but again I got a bunch of good blocks. Running up the field is only half of it; the other half I got from good blocks,” said Giannoni, who nearly went the distance on a 62-yard kickoff return two weeks earlier against Wooster. “I just go by instinct. If I see something, I’ll go with it. If it works, it works, but sometimes my instincts are wrong and I get a good shot put on me.”
An ensuing defensive stand at midfield only improved the Vikings’ chances of winning. Despite poor field position on its next possession – the 14 – South Tahoe put the elapsing clock in motion with a first down. But when the drive stalled at the 38, catastrophe struck when the punt snap sailed five feet over punter Ian Price’s head.
“That’s where you drive the length of the field and you don’t have to worry about goal-line defenses. First and foremost, you keep the ball and get first downs … that should have been the thing we should have done,” said STHS coach Tim Jaureguito.
Price still had the presence of getting to the loose ball first and kicking it out of his own end zone for a safety, cutting the Vikings’ lead to 21-16 with 4:16 remaining.
“Their kid made a heads-up play of giving up the safety instead of giving us the ball on the 10-yard line,” said Hug coach Rollins Stallworth.
Added Jaureguito, “If we get a punt off there, they have to drive the length of the field.”
Given that the Viking defense had limited Hug to one offensive touchdown to that point, no one was panicking.
However, a 20-yard kickoff return by Abner Lopez gave Hug something it rarely had on this overcast day – field position – at its 48. The Hawks capitalized, moving 35 yards on four running plays to the Viking 17. On second and seven, Hug quarterback Bryan Tilton recognized an opening in the heart of the Viking defense and audibled into his own play. The quarterback sneak worked to perfection as Tilton darted up the middle for a touchdown.
“He finally showed some leadership and took care of that position with his best game of the season,” Stallworth said. “He called that quarterback sneak himself.”
Fullback Dominic Biglieri gave Hug a field goal buffer with a two-point conversion with 2:25 left.
Considering the Vikings’ big-play capability and Romero’s kicking length, the clock didn’t seem to be a factor. However, the Vikings made the clock meaningless, turning the ball over on downs after only four plays.
Then the Hawks completed their big win by running out the final 1:35.
“After what has happened to us this year, this is probably one of our biggest victories in at least two years, maybe three from a lot of different standpoints … from the standpoint of overcoming adversity, having lost so many close games last year and the offense coming down and making a fantastic drive, especially since we’ve had so many problems offensively this year,” said Stallworth, whose club suffered through an 0-9 season a year ago.
Even though the Vikings dropped their fourth straight game, Jaureguito was pleased with his team’s performance.
“You take a look at the game last week (a 53-7 drubbing to Carson), and basically we went out there and rolled over and quit. They didn’t have any reason to come back and play as hard as they did, other than the fact that they are a bunch of guys with character. I didn’t know where they were on the pride thing, but I now know they have a lot of pride,” Jaureguito said.
South Tahoe dominated the first half but had nothing to show for it. Despite outgaining the Hawks with their new Wing-T offense 180-53 yards, the score was tied 7-7 at intermission. Hug’s Logan Lord swiped a Tim Sprinkles out pass and made a 35-yard return for a touchdown to force the tie with only 22 seconds left in the half.
William Reynolds, however, got that one back when he picked off Tilton and raced 45 yards for a score, putting STHS ahead 14-7 with 2:09 to go in the third quarter. STHS’s other touchdown came on a 14-yard sneak by Sprinkles late in the first quarter.
“They were running a 4-4 defense most of the time and coach gave me the option all week to go with a quarterback sneak whenever I wanted,” Sprinkles said.
The Vikings’ offensive line enabled Bryan Marino, Giannoni and Sprinkles to rush for a combined 216 yards.
With only three games remaining, the Vikings can still finish above .500 and spoil some postseason plans.
“It’s disappointing, but we’re going to try our best to keep our heads up and go out and play our hardest the rest of the way and try and get some people out of the playoffs,” Giannoni said.
The Viking junior varsity pounded Hug 42-12 for their second win of the season.
“We’ve been improving all season,” said Viking coach Mike Patterson. “We lost our starting quarterback in the scrimmage to Wooster and that really set us back a few games. But were finally starting to get it figured out.”
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