Vikings host Dayton on Homecoming
The South Tahoe football team has its annual Homecoming game Friday night — but isn’t playing an opponent that fits the occasion. The Vikings host Dayton at Viking Stadium at 7 p.m., a physical team anchored by a strong running game.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Vikings head coach Kevin Hennessee said.
The Vikings and Dustdevils are meeting for the sixth straight season, and recent contests have been closely contested.
Dayton won last year’s game 42-33 and South Tahoe produced a 37-36 victory in 2012 — both of the Vikings’ wins in the series have come by a point.
“We have good battles with them — every time we play them it comes down to the end,” Hennessee said.
South Tahoe is coming off its toughest loss to the season, a 34-25 defeat at Wooster last week. Practices have had a different tone this week following the Vikings’ sixth straight loss to start the 2014 season.
“Everybody is extremely frustrated and wants to get that win — everybody is feeling pressure,” Hennessee said. “You can sense that — there’s a bigger sense of urgency and guys want it.”
Adding to the team’s urgency is the emotion that surrounds Homecoming. The last time South Tahoe went into Homecoming without a win was in 2012 — and its victory in that game sparked a five-game winning streak.
“This week is extremely important — I’ve been a Viking since I was six years old, and there’s so much pride that comes along with defending your hometown and your home field,” Vikings lineman Jade Tate said. “It means a lot to the team.”
Defensively, South Tahoe’s top priority is stopping Dayton’s No. 1 — running back Skyler Berntson. The 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound senior has rushed for 865 yards and nine touchdowns this season — multiple Vikings’ players wore Berntson’s number in tape on their jerseys this week in order to simulate the talented rusher.
“They give it to him a lot — a lot of leads and dives and it’s consistent throughout the game,” Tate said. “He’s quick to bounce it to the outside, he can adjust to the plays quickly and he’s experienced.”
South Tahoe’s defense has allowed an average of 36 points per game in its last three contests, and was gouged by the deep pass against Wooster last week. The Dustdevils don’t possess as formidable a passing attack as the Colts, but present a tougher challenge in the trenches.
“It all starts at the line — we need to hold our blocks, keep the holes shut down and let the backers come free and finish it,” Vikings lineman Justin Cain said. “The line needs to be on point to stop the run.”
Offensively, South Tahoe is coming off its best game of the season. The Vikings’ scored four touchdowns against Wooster last week — the most since their season opener — and had a season-best game on the ground.
“We brought it together — we wanted to push,” Tate said. “The Vikings have always been a team that runs and the line has always been a big deal — we take a huge sense of pride in the line and we like getting big pushes.”
Vikings quarterback Mason Cain has thrown for a league leading 1,490 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, and last week his passing attack was supported by a solid ground game. South Tahoe’s running backs ran the ball for 96 yards in last week’s loss — by far the Vikings’ best rushing performance of the season.
“We started playing with more emotion,” Justin Cain said. “We need to keep our run game strong because we can’t just pass the ball all day — we have a great quarterback and great receivers, but if they know we’re passing all day they can shut that down.”
South Tahoe’s players and coaches believe the team’s first win of the season is long overdue, and would like to celebrate Homecoming with that elusive victory. There’s no better time for the Vikings to end up on the right side of the scoreboard than Friday night.
“We’re super pumped — it means a whole bunch to be playing out on our field,” Justin Cain said. “We’ve had a ton of support this year from the community and we’re going to come out ready to play and pay it back.
“It’s the perfect time — we’ve been practicing hard and this is the best opportunity we have right here.”