Rivalry redux: South Tahoe, Truckee football meet with state berth on the line
November 4, 2016
When South Tahoe and Truckee began playing each other on the gridiron six years ago, the Sierra Bowl rivalry was born. The latest showdown between the Vikings and Wolverines will undoubtedly be the rivalry's most significant chapter.
Third-seeded South Tahoe (8-2) travels to play second-seeded Truckee (8-1) on Saturday, Nov. 5, in the 3A Northern League semifinals. The cross-lake foes will meet for the second time in three weeks when they play on the North Shore — and this time, it's for a state playoff berth.
"It's crazy we've come this far, we're all stoked to be here and we can't wait for the rematch," senior quarterback Tommy Cefalu said. "We can definitely beat them."
One point separated the rivals in their first meeting, which the Wolverines won 21-20 at Viking Stadium on Oct. 21. The win gave Truckee a bye in the quarterfinals, and meant it would host a potential playoff rematch against South Tahoe.
"There's a lot of anger and frustration from the first time — we didn't play to our potential," senior linebacker Max Schweitzer said. "We've learned from our mistakes and we really need to execute."
The Vikings didn't get a week off, but gained valuable playoff experience in their postseason opener. In its first playoff game in 12 years, South Tahoe scored three unanswered touchdowns after halftime to roll to a 35-7 win at home over sixth-seeded Fernley on Oct. 28.
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"It was good for our guys to see the atmosphere," Cefalu said. "There's definitely a big jump going from regular season to the playoffs — we noticed that. We all know that this could be the last game we play, and we have to give everything we have to make it to state."
With a postseason win in tow, South Tahoe shifts its sights to a task it hasn't conquered before — beating Truckee. The Vikings have lost seven straight to the Wolverines, with the last three defeats coming by a narrow 12 points combined.
"I was so ecstatic to learn that we would play them one more time," senior linebacker Max Schweitzer said. "Bring all the tricks out of the book, put it all on the field — and see if we can do something we haven't done in a really long time."
In the teams' closely contested first meeting, South Tahoe isn't convinced that it delivered its best performance. On both sides of the ball, the Vikings see areas for improvement they believe will make the difference when the rivals meet again Saturday — and it starts in the trenches.
South Tahoe has a size disadvantage on the interior against the Wolverines' "Red Wall," and needs to rely on better execution to have success. That ties into the running game on both sides of the ball — which Truckee controlled in the first meeting.
The Vikings' offense quarterbacked by Cefalu will look for more balance in the second meeting, after being held to a season-low 30 yards rushing when the teams met two weeks ago. Establishing bruising senior back Jacob Bernal (856 yards, 12 touchdowns) on the ground will be key to complement South Tahoe's passing attack.
"I think we should be able to run the ball if we come in with that mentality that we want to," Vikings coach Louis Franklin said. "It's not easy to do that, but we can do it."
When South Tahoe takes to the air, they have an advantage as long as the pass protection holds up. Cefalu has thrown for 1,803 yards and 23 touchdowns in seven games this season — and the Vikings' receiving corps filled with weapons features 6-foot-5-inch junior McCallan Castles (1,082 yards, 12 touchdowns) and speedy 5-foot-7-inch senior Noah Jackson (717 yards, 11 touchdowns).
"Our offense is better than their defense when it matches up individuals on individuals — we're more athletic than them," Cefalu said.
Defensively, South Tahoe has to find a way to slow down Truckee's rushing attack averaging 306 yards per game — the second-best mark in the state. The Wolverines gashed the Vikings for 374 yards on the ground in their first meeting, and boast a pair of powerful backs in seniors Cole Harrity and Wulfe Retzlaff to go along with a 1,000-yard passer in senior Jayden Commendatore.
"It was us being a step slow, not running our feet, taking that extra step before we try to tackle them," Franklin said.
The biggest discrepancy between the teams on paper is the turnover margin, in which the Vikings have a decided advantage. South Tahoe has a plus-11 margin with 27 takeaways, including a single-season school record nine interceptions from Matt Cain. Truckee has a minus-3 margin on the season, and overcame six turnovers in the rivals' first meeting.
Saturday's winner will advance to the Class 3A State playoffs along with the winner between league champion Spring Creek and fifth-seeded Fallon on Friday, Nov. 4. The Southern Region's final four includes Virgin Valley (Mesquite, Nev.), Desert Pines (Las Vegas), Moapa Valley (Overton, Nev.) and Chaparral (Las Vegas).
"Everything is on table. It's always fun to end someone's season, and for the person that loses this game it's over," Franklin said. "There's a finality there, the end is there, both teams are aware of that — and that just adds to the excitement of it all."
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