Vikings deliver on Homecoming, beat Dayton 28-2 for first win
The South Tahoe football team picked the perfect time to deliver its most complete performance of the season. The Vikings downed Dayton 28-2 on Friday night, riding the emotion of Homecoming to their first victory in 2014.
“It’s amazing — it’s definitely a night to remember,” Vikings tight end/linebacker Stone Merkley said.
A buzz filled Viking Stadium prior to kickoff Friday night — and when South Tahoe’s players came through the stands in new all-black uniforms to AC/DC’s “Back In Black,” the stage was set for a special night. The Vikings didn’t disappoint — and after a slow start, seemingly everything went their way.
“It feels so great — not winning a game was just eating away at us,” Vikings quarterback Mason Cain said. “We needed this — it was Homecoming and it meant a lot to everybody.”
Late in the first quarter, South Tahoe (1-6, 1-5 I-A Northern) fell behind when a botched handoff in the end zone resulted in a safety. Dayton (4-3, 3-3) held that 2-0 lead until just before halftime, when the Vikings got on the board with a 2-yard touchdown run from Cain on fourth-and-goal.
On a play-action bootleg, Cain didn’t see anyone open and decided to take it himself — he beat a pair of Dustdevils to the corner and dove across the goal line for the score. That touchdown put South Tahoe ahead 7-2 with 53.4 seconds left in the second quarter — and the Vikings would find the end zone again before halftime.
After gaining 7 yards in three plays on the next possession, Dayton elected to go for it from its own 30-yard line. Skyler Berntson, who started at quarterback for the Dustdevils in place of an injured Davis Winebarger, was tackled for a 7-yard loss by nose tackle Brandon Erickson to give the ball back to the Vikings with 19.2 seconds left.
Following a pass interference penalty, Cain threw a strike to Erickson for an 11-yard score to put South Tahoe ahead 14-2 at halftime. The Vikings rode that momentum after the break, and caught a few breaks while rolling to their first victory of the year.
“We went crazy at halftime — we had to keep our composure, but we had the time of our lives,” Cain said.
Dayton received the second half kickoff and was forced to punt after a three-and-out — the high, short punt bounced off the turf then off the head of a South Tahoe player and was returned for a score, but the Dustdevils’ touchdown was negated by a penalty for a player losing his helmet while the ball was in the air. Dayton unsuccessfully attempted a fake punt on fourth-and-24 following the penalty, and South Tahoe took a 21-2 lead with a 5-yard run from running back Dylan Gardner three plays after it got the ball back.
“Sometimes you need things like that to happen,” Vikings head coach Kevin Hennessee said.
The Dustdevils had first-and-goal at the South Tahoe 1-yard line on the next drive, but couldn’t get across the goal line — after the Vikings stuffed a Berntson sneak on first down, Dayton tried the same play. Berntson was again stopped, but spun away from the line of scrimmage — Gardner stripped him mid-spin, and Merkley fell on the loose ball to give the Vikings possession and keep them in front by three scores.
“I was stoked because I saw the ball in front of me and I just jumped on it — once we got that fumble recovery it completely changed the game,” Merkley said. “Every time it started going their way, we would battle back and come back — and that’s what it takes.”
South Tahoe punctuated its victory late in the fourth quarter with its fourth unanswered touchdown, an 11-yard pass from Cain to Kirby David with 1:43 left. By then, the outcome wasn’t in doubt — the game and the night belonged to the Vikings.
“Somehow or another, we had drifted into the dark and we needed to get back in the light,” Hennessee said. “We weren’t the same team that was playing well early in the season — we needed to find where we wanted to be with each other.”
For the Vikings, the victory snapped an eight-game losing streak dating back to last season — including six straight losses to open their 2014 campaign. South Tahoe’s student section poured onto the field after the game, and a sea of blackclad students and players ended Friday night’s “black out” with a mix of elation and emotion.
“The support helped a lot, and I think we just wanted it,” Erickson said. “We couldn’t go down without a win this season, and we needed it now.”
South Tahoe had its most balanced offensive performance of the season against Dayton. Cain finished 18-of-29 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions — David had a game-high 115 receiving yards on 10 receptions and Erickson caught five passes for 62 yards.
On the ground, Gardner ran for 120 yards on 22 carries. He had six rushes for more than 10 yards behind an offensive line that controlled the line of scrimmage against a physical Dayton front.
“We were able to get that run game going again,” Hennessee said. “Dylan started running cranky — he was running with a purpose and the offensive line was getting a push.”
Defensively, South Tahoe allowed 247 rushing yards to Dayton but kept the Dustdevils out of the end zone. It was the team’s best defensive performance on the scoreboard since a shutout against Foresthill in the 2005 season.
For Dayton, running back Quinn Santana carried most of the load in the Dustdevils’ run-first attack. Santana finished with 182 yards on 26 carries as the team’s featured tailback — Berntson went 1-for-6 passing for 16 yards, and was held to a season-low 28 yards rushing on 14 carries.
“We were up against a pretty big wall of adversity without our starting quarterback and a few other kids missing — it was a little too much to overcome,” Dayton head coach Rob Turner said. “We prepared well for them, but without our quarterback we’re a different team.”
South Tahoe returns to action Friday night against Elko at Viking Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.