The North Lake Tahoe Pop Warner season moved forward Saturday at North Tahoe High School under extreme conditions, to put it mildly.
“I’ve done over a hundred weigh-ins and this was the first one in pouring rain,” said NLT Association President Scott Wilderman. “Every kid had to weigh 3 pounds more than when he showed up. Thanks to the volunteers who held umbrellas over me and kept the ink from running off the paperwork, we got through it.”
From the opening kickoff, the Carson Senators Junior Pee Wees were surprised by the young Rams, who overcame injuries to play a solid game.
“Our boys played well against a very tough and disciplined Senators team, especially our defensive line,” NLT coach Tim Cleary said. “They are all game-changers, and we are lucky to be stacked with such great depth.”
Defensive linemen Jose Perez, EJ Leon, Alfredo Gomez, Richard Baker, Felix Gramanz, Tanner Murphy, Fernando Perez, Daniel Mendoza and Jack Reber, as well as team captain and standout linebacker Joe Duran, stacked up the Senators’ offense.
“Joe was just incredible,” Cleary said. “Only a few broken plays cost us the game, so we’ll keep working on our open-field tackling this week. We have really improved our special teams and I was particularly impressed with Carson Lamberth on kick return duty. That’s the scariest job in football and it was a real highlight to watch his first-ever attempt.”
Mother Nature head-faked the Carson and NLT Junior Midgets in the game following when it appeared the weather was improving, only to deteriorate again by kickoff time, and continue to worsen to sleet and snow before the game ended. Unfettered, the Rams put up a solid challenge to Carson City with the scoreboard showing 2-0 at halftime.
“I’ve seen rain, hail, sleet, and snow in September, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised it would happen on game day,” said Ram Junior Midgets coach Torre Mercogliano. “Our kids played a tremendous game against a solid team we respect.”
“Being the four-season athletes they are, our boys were almost unaffected, which I think gave us an advantage. I won’t say the weather made it even more fun, but it really was a fantastic day. When you lose a beast of a blocker and tackler like Eleazar Santiago out of your lineup at halftime, you can’t expect to beat everybody.”
Standout Ram performances included running back Raul Estrada-Rodriquez’s punishing rushing style behind the blocks of Kevin Perez and Bryan Dominguez, Ricky Tinoco and tight end Gabe Wright.
The Rams’ passing attack also gained momentum this week with multiple completions from quarterback Thomas Mercogliano to Ram receivers, including Emmanual Valenzuela-Jones, who also set all hearts in the crowd leaping with an exciting kickoff return in his Pop Warner debut.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Marco Barraza recorded his first QB sack of the season, stopping one Senators’ drive in the mud. Titus Upchurch covered the whole gridiron from his defensive tackle position, establishing residency in the Senators backfield all afternoon and running down Senator ball carriers from sideline to sideline. Dalton “The Dog” Lamberth was a “shutdown corner” for the Rams, making tackles in the open field and ensuring the Senators’ passing fell flat.
The Rams season-opening three-game home stand ends Saturday with the Junior Pee Wees taking on Reno South at noon, followed at 2 p.m. by the Junior Midgets hosting Truckee, which returned to the Pop Warner family this season. For more info about the Rams, go to www.northtahoepopwarner.com.