Vikings let Sierra Bowl slip away, lose to Truckee 22-19
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The South Tahoe football team had complete control of the Sierra Bowl after the first half on Friday night — then it began to slip away. Truckee scored three unanswered touchdowns to rally from a 19-point halftime deficit and hand the Vikings a heartbreaking 22-19 loss at Viking Stadium in the season finale for both teams.
“This one was tough. In the past we couldn’t compete with them — tonight we could,” Vikings head coach Kevin Hennessee said. “It wasn’t that we weren’t battling — we didn’t just come out and let it go in the second half.”
South Tahoe (2-8, 2-7 Northern I-A) had a three-possession lead at halftime after dominating the first two quarters. The Vikings took the first possession of the game for a touchdown, driving 10 plays in 70 yards to take a 7-0 lead.
A 17-yard run by Stone Merkley after a mishandled punt snap kept the drive alive, and five plays later quarterback Mason Cain connected with receiver Kirby David for an 8-yard touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Cain hit receiver Will Mori for a 38-yard touchdown that put South Tahoe ahead 13-0.
Truckee (5-5, 4-5) had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line on the ensuing possession, but a handoff to running back Sean Bokinskie was botched and South Tahoe linebacker Dylan Gardner fell on the loose ball to end the threat. The Vikings then marched 92 yards in eight plays — Cain’s 26-yard touchdown pass to David made the score 19-0 with 8:08 left in the half.
“We were on fire in the first half — no question,” Hennessee said. “We were playing at a fast pace, and they weren’t.”
South Tahoe took that 19-point lead into halftime after a complete performance in the first 24 minutes. Defensively, the Vikings held the Wolverines to 107 yards of offense while forcing a pair of turnovers — Mori’s pick before the half ended a drive near midfield.
“The mood was great — we were fired up, we weren’t giving up, we were letting them go,” Hennessee said.
The Vikings had all the momentum headed into the break. But after the teams returned to a rain-soaked field for the second half, Truckee quickly changed the tone of the game.
The Wolverines’ second-half rally began with a methodical scoring drive on the opening possession of the third quarter. Truckee drove 70 yards on a 12-play drive that chewed up half the period and featured a pair of fourth-down conversions — a play after the second successful fourth down, running back Gabe Deiro found the end zone from 4 yards out.
Truckee went for two after the score, and a carry from running back Tanner Sawyer cut South Tahoe’s lead to 19-8 with 5:21 left in the third quarter. The Vikings got a first down on the next drive before stalling near midfield — an 11-yard punt by Stone Merkley gave the Wolverines the ball back at their own 40-yard line.
Truckee gained 40 yards on its first three plays to get in the red zone — on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Wolverines had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Tyler Davis scored on a sneak from 1 yard out — after an unsuccessful two-point try, South Tahoe held a 19-14 lead with 10:38 to play.
“They started running the ball a little bit — credit to them for pounding it up on us,” Hennessee said. “We started overpursuing and they were cutting back and finding the lanes.”
Penalties on two straight plays backed up the Vikings on the ensuing possession, and they had to punt facing a fourth-and-32 from their own 28-yard line. On the kick, Truckee completed its comeback with a big special teams play.
Sawyer caught Merkley’s punt outside the right hash and headed to the sideline where a wall of Truckee blockers paved the way. Sawyer eluded a diving Merkley at the 18-yard line on his way to the end zone for a 62-yard return that put the Wolverines ahead with 5:49 left — his ensuing two-point conversion run made the score 22-19.
“That was a killer,” Hennessee said. “As soon as he missed and they made that wall return, he was gone.”
South Tahoe drove all the way to Truckee’s 18-yard line on the next possession — but three straight incompletions ended the march. Following a timeout, Cain overthrew receiver Corey McCarthy in the end zone on fourth-and-9 — and the Wolverines ran out the last 2:19 to seal the comeback victory.
For the Vikings, Friday’s loss marked the fifth straight to Truckee since the teams became league mates. South Tahoe’s players were distraught after the game, and a handful stayed on the field long after the Wolverines’ celebration in the opposite end zone had ceased.
“They know they could have done better things — we all know that,” Hennessee said. “But I’m so proud of them — they changed the perception of what football is like here. The perception of us now is different — we play faster, we hit harder and we can do other things.”
Cain finished 19-of-35 passing with 213 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions — the junior ended the regular season as northern Nevada’s leading passer with 2,383 yards. David had 10 catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns — he finished the season with 980 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Mori had two catches for 54 yards and a score. He took a pair of big hits in the second half, and his absence down the stretch took away one of South Tahoe’s main weapons on both sides of the ball.
“When Will got whacked, everything kind of changed a little bit — it took that deeper threat on that side away and it felt different on the sidelines,” Hennessee said.
On the ground, Gardner had a team-high 74 yards on 15 carries. In its three second-half possessions, South Tahoe gained only 86 yards and had only five first downs.
“We couldn’t get anything going on offense in the second half,” Hennessee said.
Truckee ran for 237 yards in the win, led by Deiro’s 108 yards on 13 carries — Sawyer carried for 60 yards and back Wulfe Retzlaff rushed for 40 yards. Davis threw for 70 yards and an interception on 6-of-13 passing.
For South Tahoe, Friday night’s loss brought a painful end to a positive 2014 season. The Vikings took steps forward as a program during the season, due in large part to the play and leadership of their senior class.
“They wanted to be good — they wanted to find their own identity,” Hennessee said. “You can’t say enough about the seniors, because they were the ones that kept getting it done — they were inclusive and always had each other’s backs.
“This was an actual family — they wanted to be together all the time.”
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