Vikings can’t stay with Elko, lose 49-28
The South Tahoe football team hung with second-place Elko for two quarters Friday night — but couldn’t keep up with the Indians after halftime. The Vikings gave up three unanswered touchdowns to start the second half and couldn’t handle Elko’s defensive pressure as the Indians rolled to a 49-28 win at Viking Stadium.
“We knew it was going to be physical and wasn’t going to be easy — they came in 5-1 for a reason,” Vikings head coach Kevin Hennessee said. “We had to be perfect, and we had mental mistakes in the beginning.”
South Tahoe (1-7, 1-6 Northern I-A) opened the scoring on the fifth drive of the game. The Vikings drove 80 yards in eight plays, striking first with a 23-yard pass from quarterback Mason Cain to receiver Brandon Erickson with 3:28 left in the first quarter — Erickson ran a post route through Elko’s secondary and made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone.
Elko (6-1) responded quickly, tying the game 18 seconds later. Following a 44-yard kickoff return, the Indians scored in one play — a 41-yard touchdown run by running back Jason Wilson.
South Tahoe went three-and-out on its next drive, and suffered a special teams letdown on the ensuing punt. Elko’s Eric Van Kirk fielded the punt inside his own 20-yard line and made five Vikings miss on the way to an 82-yard punt return that put the Indians in front — after a failed two-point conversion attempt, the score was 13-7 with 1:41 left in the opening quarter.
“That was a killer — there were some missed tackles,” Hennessee said. “We had guys there, we just missed them.”
Less than five minutes into the second quarter, Elko added a pair of touchdowns to take a 28-7 lead. Both scores came in drives that started in South Tahoe territory following long punt returns — a 1-yard run from Mykel Dick put the Indians ahead by three possessions with 7:22 left in the first half.
“That was the first time our punt coverage let us down since the Fallon game — that was a huge thing because we gave them field position,” Hennessee said. “Giving them short fields on the punt returns didn’t help — when we made them drive, at least we made them work.”
With the game slipping away, South Tahoe’s offense got rolling to keep things close. The Vikings put together a pair of touchdown drives around an interception from defensive back Robert Cage, and went into the break trailing 28-21.
With 6:11 left in the second quarter, Cain connected with receiver Corey McCarthy for a 26-yard touchdown that capped a five-play, 60-yard march. After Cage’s interception, South Tahoe went 64 yards in four plays and scored on a 37-yard strike from Cain to receiver Kirby David — David’s one-handed grab made it a one-possession game with 3:39 to play in the half.
“We were humming,” Hennessee said.
South Tahoe had the momentum as it kicked off to start the second half, but Elko quickly took it back. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback Alex Puentes connected with receiver Nate Klekas for a 26-yard score that put the Indians up by 14 in the opening minute of the third quarter.
Following a South Tahoe fumble, the Indians found the end zone again to make the score 42-21. In the fourth quarter, Elko scored its third unanswered touchdown of the half — a 2-yard run by back L.A. Jones — to go in front by 28 points with 7:43 left.
“We’re not the type of team that can make mistakes and overcome them — when we make mental, selfish mistakes we struggle,” Hennessee said. “That was it in the first quarter, then it got to the point where we couldn’t overcome it.”
The Vikings had trouble moving the ball throughout the second half, and recorded only one first down in four possessions before a pass interference penalty sparked a scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. With 3:36 left, running back Keelin McBride found the end zone from 5 yards out for his first touchdown of the season — by then, the outcome had already been decided.
Cain finished 19-of-41 passing for 257 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. Under duress throughout the second half as a result of Elko switching up its pass rush, the junior threw for 53 yards and had a stretch of nine straight incompletions.
“They started doing some twists, and for whatever reason our guards weren’t picking it up — that’s where the pressure came,” Hennessee said. “They changed the way they started pressuring us and we didn’t respond fast enough — the guards were chasing and they were coming in.”
David caught 10 passes for a game-high 110 yards and a score against the Indians, Erickson had three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown before leaving with an injury and McCarthy finished with three receptions for 54 yards and a score. On the ground, South Tahoe ran for 46 yards against Elko’s three-man front led by running back Dylan Gardner’s 11 rushes for 21 yards.
Elko’s starting quarterbacks both threw for 62 yards in the win — Puentes had a passing touchdown and ran for 60 yards on seven carries while Jacob Conklin threw an interception. Wilson finished with 120 total yards, including 91 yards and two touchdowns on the ground — the Indians had two players with jersey numbers in the 50s run for scores.
South Tahoe returns to action Friday night at Sparks (0-7). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.