Vikings host Elko, look to build off first win
Now that its first victory is out of the way, the South Tahoe football team doesn’t plan to stop there. South Tahoe hosts Elko on Friday night at Viking Stadium, looking to extend its first winning streak of the season.
“It’s an advantage — everyone has the taste in their mouths now that we have a win,” Vikings linebacker/offensive lineman Cameron Montanari said. “Now we know how to win, and there’s a new energy in the locker room.”
The Vikings used the emotion of a Homecoming “black out” last week to deliver their most complete performance of the season — and their first win of 2014. South Tahoe will likely be back in blue Friday night — but aim for a similar result against the Indians, who come into the game tied for second in the Div. I-A Northern League standings.
“We just have to build off the excitement of the win — two years ago, Homecoming night is when our roll started,” Vikings receiver/nose tackle Brandon Erickson said. “All the kids are really hoping for that again — coming back to school was a lot of fun coming off a win.”
Elko’s only loss this season has come against league-leading Fallon, a 25-14 defeat Oct. 3. The Indians have beaten three teams by double digits — Wooster, Fernley and Lowry — that have defeated South Tahoe this season.
“They’ve seen what it takes, and they see that it’s going to take a lot more this week, “Vikings head coach Kevin Hennessee said. “To sustain what we’ve got going, the effort level is going to have to be greater.”
Offensively, Elko is averaging 37 points and more than 330 yards per game running its familiar Wing-T set with a few new wrinkles. The Indians have added a shotgun package to their offense this season, and have thrown for more than 100 yards in each of their victories.
On the ground, running back Jason Wilson (510 yards, eight TDs) leads an Elko rushing attack that features four backs with at least 24 carries. When the Indians throw, Jacob Conklin and Alex Puentes trade off at quarterback — receiver Nate Klekas is the big play threat, averaging 23.4 yards per catch.
“We have to be able to get their back before he gets in space — get him up before the line of scrimmage before he gets going,” Hennessee said.
South Tahoe’s defense will key on stopping the run, much like it did last week against Dayton. The Vikings’ linebacker corps will need to stay disciplined against Elko’s misdirection-based ground game, and the defense will have to rally to the ball like it has in its best performances this season.
“The guards will mislead where the actual play is going — now we have to look in the backfield,” Montanari said. “You’ll see backs go one way, another back go this way — I just have to put my head down and fill the holes.”
Elko runs a three-man front defensively, but brings its outside linebackers up to the line of scrimmage on most snaps. The Indians’ defense is characterized by consistent pressure — Hennessee said they will have five or six players rushing on every play.
“They’re going to bring pressure, and if we can throw with that pressure then we’re going to be fine,” Hennessee said.
South Tahoe will need offensive balance for a second straight week if it wants to neutralize Elko’s pressure. The Vikings had their best game on the ground against Dayton, including a season-high 120 yards rushing from running back Dylan Gardner.
If the Vikings can get their ground game going and have solid pass protection, the league’s top passing attack could have a big day against Elko’s man-to-man coverage. Quarterback Mason Cain has thrown for a league-leading 1,691 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Kirby David is second in the league with 603 receiving yards to lead a dangerous South Tahoe receiving corps.
“We have a lot of talent at wide receiver, so if they run man a lot I think we can beat them,” Erickson said.
South Tahoe found out what it takes to finish a game — now it’s about sustained success. Friday night marks the last time this season the Vikings will play a team with a winning record — and could be the start of a late-season run.
“Playing as a team (is key) — in the games that we lost by a lot, we got down on each other,” Erickson said. “Last week we really worked as a group, and I think that’s what made the difference.”