North Tahoe football: Lakers fall just short of first victory
Sierra Lutheran 24, North Tahoe 20
Sierra Lutheran 12 6 0 6 — 24
North Tahoe 12 0 8 0 — 20
N — Lutz 76-yard run (conversion failed) 10:05
S — Westre 1-yard run (conversion failed) 6:14
S — Westre 5-yard run
N — Snyder 5-yard pass from Mercogliano (conversion failed) 0:10
S — Cummings 12-yard pass from Salerno (conversion failed) 0:17
N — Snyder 4-yard pass from Mercogliano (Snyder from Mercogliano) 2:33
S — Salerno 20-yard run (conversion failed) 3:47
RUSHING — S, 45-256: Salerno 31-182; Contreras 5-47; Westre 9-27. N, 36-186: Lutz 6-80; Buhler 7-51; Hoffmann 8-28; Mercogliano 8-26; Kriston 7-1.
PASSING — S: Salerno 14-28-174-2-1. N: Mercogliano 4-19-72-0-2.
RECEIVING — S: Contreras 5-66; Cummings 3-58; Westre 3-25; Houghton 2-25. N: Snyder 4-72.
The Lakers will play Loyalton on the road this Saturday, Sept. 12, at 1 p.m.
TAHOE CITY — Given a full roster of able bodies Saturday, the North Tahoe football team might be celebrating its first win since the 2013 season.
Freshmen tandem Thomas Mercogliano and Eli Snyder connected for a touchdown late in the third quarter against visiting Sierra Lutheran to put the Lakers in front 20-18 entering the fourth quarter. But with several key North Tahoe players watching from the sideline, the Falcons took over the lead on a 20-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ryan Salerno with 3:47 remaining in the contest and held on for the 24-20 victory.
“Sierra Lutheran played a great game. We had that two-point lead right up till the end; we just started to run out of horses,” North Tahoe coach Scott Everist said.
The Sierra Lutheran win was the first ever for the Falcons, whose Division IV football program is in its first official year of existence. North Tahoe is playing an independent schedule against 8-man teams after canceling its 2014 season with not enough players.
“It was a good game that could have gone either way; you had two very inexperienced teams out there, but both teams played very hard,” Sierra Lutheran coach Jacob Schumacher said. “We didn’t play perfect, but the kids wanted it. They showed a lot of heart and determination.”
The Falcons (1-1) also showed class in their first win. Immediately after the game, a Sierra Lutheran player interrupted the Falcons’ celebration. “Let’s go shake their hands,” he said. “They played just as hard as we did.”
North Tahoe (0-2) lost its top running back and return man Nathan Lutz early in the game to a lower back injury. The junior had already rushed for 80 yards thanks to a 76-yard touchdown run in the opening minutes.
The Lakers then lost Snyder, who had two touchdown catches and 72 receiving yards when he went down with a groin injury in the fourth quarter. Senior fullback Julio Carrillo also sat out the game with a knee injury from the previous week.
“No major injuries. Just a lot of little things,” said Everist, who hopes to get all three players back for North Tahoe’s next game at Loyalton this Saturday.
The Lakers struggled to move the ball without their biggest playmakers on the field and did not fully capitalize on the five turnovers committed by Sierra Lutheran. Mercogliano also had a number of catchable passes dropped, including two in the end zone on consecutive plays early in the fourth quarter.
Salerno and the Falcons took advantage.
Following their fifth turnover of the game — a fumble recovered by Orlando Resendez — the visitors forced a North Tahoe three-and-out and then drove 74 yards in four plays for the go-ahead touchdown.
Salerno began the drive with completions of 12 and 28 yards to Alex Westre and Jake Cummings. After an encroachment penalty against the Lakers, the junior quarterback rushed for 7 yards before breaking two tackles en route to his 20-yard TD. Salerno finished with 182 yards rushing on 31 carries.
North Tahoe had plenty of time to counter but turned the ball over on downs near midfield with 2:16 remaining. Salerno rushed for two first downs on the ensuing possession to clinch the game.
Both teams struggled out of the gate. Lutz lost a fumble on the opening play, and Mercogliano intercepted a pass by Salerno on the next play.
Three plays later, however, Lutz broke free from a tackle and sprinted 76 yards for the game’s first score. The conversion failed as the Lakers took an early 6-0 lead.
Sierra Lutheran began a promising drive that screeched to a halt when Mercogliano again stepped in front of a Salerno pass for his second interception.
But a fumbled pitch from Mercogliano to Lutz on the next play gave the Falcons new life, and they responded with a 61-yard touchdown drive in five plays, capped by a 1-yard run by Westre. North Tahoe stuffed the conversion attempt.
The Falcons took over the lead on their next possession, a 70-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard TD run by Westre.
After a three-and-out, the Lakers again took advantage of a Sierra Lutheran mistake when a punt sailed over the head of the return man and was recovered by North Tahoe at the 10-yard line. Mercogliano and Snyder converted their first touchdown play on a 5-yard pass four plays later. Again the conversion failed, leaving the score knotted at 12 with 10 seconds left in the quarter.
Sierra Lutheran snapped the tie late in the second quarter with a 15-play, clock-eating drive that resulted in a 12-yard touchdown toss from Salerno to Cummings. The score and failed conversion gave the Falcons an 18-12 lead at the half.
On the first possession of the second half, North Tahoe senior Jacob Buhler recovered a Sierra Lutheran fumble on a second-and-goal play from the 7.
North Tahoe then put together its own clock-burning drive, which lasted 12 plays and ended with a 4-yard TD pass from Mercogliano to Snyder. Snyder, who had a 47-yard catch and run on the drive, pulled down a one-handed reception on the conversion attempt to give the Lakers their 20-18 lead that lasted until the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, the North Tahoe coaching staff praised the Lakers for their effort and improved execution from the first week, when they lost 44-32 to Excel Christian.
“Our improvement over last week was great. I’d say we were another 50 percent better,” said Everist, whose team did not commit a turnover after the two early fumbles. “Our big issue today was that we dropped some balls. We’ve just got to continue to work on that.
“The big thing we see is that these freshman are coming into key roles and doing well. That bodes well for the future. Those guys, when they are juniors and seniors, will be quite a team.”
Everist also was pleased with the large crowd that turned out for the home game.
“The word is getting out,” he said. “People like to see it back. We’re getting a lot of support, so we’re happy.”
North Tahoe coaches named Mercogliano Player of the Game. David Hoffman, who ran the ball hard and played well on defense in Lutz’s absence, was Defensive Player of the Game. Snyder was the Offensive Player of the Game and Buhler was Special Teams Player of the Game.
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