The North Tahoe Rams hit the road for the first time this season for games at Golden Eagle Regional Park in Sparks last Friday night.
The Junior Midgets led off with a stoic performance against the Sparks Steelers. Taking the opening kickoff and chewing up the clock behind the blocks of dominating offensive lineman Ricky Tinoco, Kevin Perez, Marco Barraza, Ben Ropers, Ellie Santiago and tight end Gabe Wright, Rams tailback Raul Rodriguez was again able to demonstrate his punishing running style, etched by bruising lead blocks from his fullback Micheal Hartman, who had several good runs of his own.
Gaining yard after yard and multiple first downs, the Rams marched toward the Steelers end zone. While the drive came up short in the end, head coach Torre Mercogliano was impressed with the Rams ball-control offense. “Hey,” he said, “if the Steelers don’t have the ball, they can’t score, regardless of how we play defense.”
There was no ensuing disappointment for the Rams on “D” either. Doubling up his duty and effort, middle linebacker Hartman led the Rams in turning down the Steelers’ hopes to respond quickly, and saving a burning clock for his teammate/quarterback partner. Taking over and leading the Rams backfield with runs of his own and completing passes throughout the night, QB Thomas Mercogliano led his backfield behind the ramming blocks of yet another corp of stud linemen.
Bryan Dominguez, Titus Upchurch, Wyatt Johannsson and Matthew Cornell, tightened up by sweep-allowing seal-blocks on the end from Dalton Lamberth, all fronted a second effort to score on a Steeler defense that had been put on their heels before finally standing up.
With nearly two quarters completed by strong offense and stout defense, the half ended soon after a fluke mishap on a Rams punt allowed the Steelers an easy touchdown.
“This was a strange night for sure,” Mercogliano said. “The boys fought incredibly hard all night. ‘Super Max’ Wilderman played every single play on offense, defense and kicking game. He’s not just the heart and soul of our team, he’s the backbone, and he’s a real man of steel.”
Having become a staple for the Rams, Emmanuel “Z-Man” Valenzuela kept his cool on punt and kick returns, and Raul “The Fridge” Reyes’ contributions on offense rounded out a solid Rams effort. In the end the Rams came up short on just two plays resulting in additional Steelers’ scores and left the field with a 19-0 loss.
Mergogliano, as unsatisfied by the score as his Ram players, expressed the heart and soul of his team. “All these kids are stars,” he said. “Ellie Santiago played through pain almost the entire game after injuring his shoulder stopping a Steeler drive in the first quarter. Kevin Perez came into the game hurt, and while he didn’t finish, he put out 100 percent every play he was in. Micheal Hartman isn’t just a defensive quarterback, he’s the best blitzing linebacker we could ever ask to have, recording tackle after tackle all night long.”
“Defensive tackle Titus Upchurch is as rare a gift as any line coach could wish for,” assistant coach Scott Wilderman said. “He spent so much time racking up tackles for losses, I was expecting him to pull a tent out of his gear bag and make camp right there in the Steelers’ backfield. His partner at defensive end, Joe Wilderman, took a lot of heat from Steeler sweeps on a chilly night, and Titus and Joe stood strong together denying all Steeler progress except for a single play.”
The Ram Junior Pee Wees followed with a well-fought game of their own against the Sparks Saints.
“As a coach and a parent, it was a great thing to see this team come alive,” said coach Tim Cleary, summing up the night. “The best thing about the game was seeing the boys come together and really play as a team. They really wanted to win this one, you could just see it on their faces when they showed up.”
And show up they did, see-sawing throughout the game, first behind, then catching up, then going ahead. Standing firm against a strong Saints running attack, the Rams defensive players showed they had truly become proficient at their positions.
“Brad Rye at safety and Irving Perez and Orion Barger at linebacker gave us incredible athletic efforts,” Cleary said.
The Junior Pee Wees also went home Friday night on the wrong side of a 26-12 score, and will join their sibling Junior Midgets for the Rams’ “homecoming” on Saturday at North Tahoe High School to fend off two Douglas Tiger teams at noon and 2 p.m.
For more about the Rams and for the remaining season schedule, go to www.northtahoepopwarner.com.