TAHOE CITY, Calif. – The Lakers could get used to eight-man football.
On the first play from scrimmage against visiting Pyramid Lake on Saturday, junior quarterback Brandon Hayakawa tucked the ball on a read-option play and burst into the open field en route to a 74-yard touchdown run.
The new era of North Tahoe football was off to a hot start. And Hayakawa and company were just getting started.
North Tahoe jumped on Pyramid Lake early, scoring 15 first-quarter points, and wore down the visitors late to earn a 21-6, season-opening win.
“It’s fun. It’s a good time,” North Tahoe coach Scott Everist said of eight-man football, which his Lakers played for the first time since being granted independent status by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association. “It suits us well, with the numbers we have.”
A former member of the NIAA’s Division III, North Tahoe will compete as an independent for three seasons as it rebuilds its program, which has struggled with numbers in recent years. Saturday’s opener marked the first of four eight-man games on the Lakers’ seven-game schedule, which includes a mix of Division IV and Division III opponents (plus a California school).
Pyramid Lake, which shares the same Lakers mascot, did not help its cause early.
“Penalties killed us. We had 10 penalties in the first half, and that’s what did us in,” said Pyramid Lake coach R.C. Remington. “But they had some good athletes. That 16 (Hayakawa) is quick in the open field.”
Along with Hayakawa, who finished with a game-high 163 yards rushing on 16 attempts, senior receiver Alex Bourriague hurt the visitors with his speed and athleticism. Bourriague finished with highlight touchdowns while also kicking through a 32-yard field goal and recording a big interception and multiple tackles.
“(Hayakawa) and Alex Bourriague both performed how we hoped they would,” Everist said.
The coach also complimented the play of freshman linebacker and running back Juan Estrada, who, at 5-7 and 140-pound, made vicious tackles all over the field, all game long, and finished with 60 yards of hard rushing on 10 carries. “He’s a player,” Everist said.
The game, held on a warm and clear afternoon – a rare break from the smoky conditions that canceled multiple sporting events in the area – could not have started off more ideally for the hosts.
Hayakawa went untouched on his 74-yard score to open the contest. After a failed two-point conversion, North Tahoe forced a three-and-out, a turnover on downs and another three-and-out in the first quarter.
Bourriague booted his 32-yard field goal on North Tahoe’s third possession. He then fielded a punt at midfield a couple minutes later and returned it 50 yards for North Tahoe’s second touchdown of the game. With time expired in the first quarter, the hosts held a commanding 15-0 lead following a failed conversion.
Pyramid Lake began showing signs of life in the second quarter. The visitors – whose roster was small in numbers but large on size, with 10 players over 200 pounds – ate nearly 8 ½ minutes of clock on a drive from their own 10-yard line to the North Tahoe 4. But on fourth-and an inch from the 4, Bourriague made a textbook solo tackle on Pyramid Lake quarterback John Barlese for a 1-yard loss, and clutch turnover on downs.
North Tahoe’s offense sputtered the remainder of the quarter and into the third, as the hosts turned the ball over on downs themselves after Bourriague intercepted a pass and returned it to the Pyramid Lake 24-yard line.
North Tahoe blocked a punt at the start of the third quarter and then fumbled it back to Pyramid Lake, which took advantage on the next play when Barlese connected with Jachai Calvin for a 65-yard touchdown. After a failed conversion, North Tahoe held a 15-6 lead with 6:25 left in the third quarter.
The hosts fumbled the ball back to Pyramid Lake again on their very next offensive play, negating a nice return by Bourriague out to the 43-yard line.
North Tahoe’s defense came to play, though, and the unit stopped Pyramid Lake’s leading rusher, the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Chase Cawelti, on a fourth-and-three at the North Tahoe 33. The defense came through again on the next possession, forcing another turnover on downs, before the offense got back on track.
Starting at the Pyramid Lake 49, North Tahoe drove to its third touchdown of the day in seven plays. After recovering a fumbled pitch, Bourriague gained nine yards on a run, Hayakawa broke off runs of 10 and eight yards, and Estrada ran for 23 to set up the Lakers at the 3-yard line.
Following a broken play that lost five yards, Bourriague ping-ponged off of several tackles and somehow managed to keep his feet on his way to an athletic eight-yard score. The conversion failed, and North Tahoe led 21-6 with 6:57 remaining in the game.
“Toward the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth we started to get our swagger back,” Everist said.
Pyramid Lake, meanwhile, was losing steam, with several players hobbled and others dragging with fatigue.
“We’re not in good shape,” Remington said, admitting that the elevation could have been a factor. “We’ve still got to get in better shape.”
Bourriague, who finished the game at quarterback after Hayakawa was shaken up on a hit, took three consecutive kneel-downs on North Tahoe’s final possession after the Lakers had reached the Pyramid Lake 18-yard line.
“I think (the win) is going to build our confidence,” Hayakawa said. “We haven’t had a win like that in a long time. Now we have to get ready for the next team.”
Everist said he was pleased with his team’s performance, particularly the play of Bourriague, Hayakawa and Estrada, as well as the defensive line led by Jordy Holst.
“I was happy with the D-line. The kids played hard,” Everist said. “There were a lot of helmets around the ball. They were flying around.”
The coach added that he enjoyed seeing his team in good spirits in the postgame huddle.
“Taking that walk to the end zone after the game, the kids’ body language told the story,” he said. “They were excited. But now it’s back to work.”