North Tahoe football | Lakers show promise in return to gridiron
Excel Christian 44, North Tahoe 32
E 22 0 16 6 — 44
N 6 6 12 8 — 32
E — N. Denson 12-yard run (conversion failed) 9:38
N — Carrillo 8-yard run (conversion failed) 7:39
E — Haring 46-yard run (Gruhn run) 6:42
E — Gruhn 5-yard run (Haring run) 5:01
N — Snyder 8-yard pass from Mercogliano (conversion failed) 4:02
N — Lutz 64-yard run (conversion failed) 10:58
E — N. Denson 95-yard run (Gruhn run) 9:57
N — Estrada 15-yard run (conversion failed) 8:44
E — Fixel 8-yard run (N. Denson run) 3:43
N — Buhler 23-yard pass from Mercogliano (conversion failed) 9:46
N — Safety, N. Denson tackled in end zone 8:06
E — Haring 71-yard pass from N. Denson (conversion failed) 2:38
RUSHING — E, 47-416: N. Denson 12-194; Haring 11-166; Gruhn 5-23; Fixel 12-20; K. Denson 7-13. N, 41-286: Lutz 19-195; Carrillo 7-76; Estrada 5-29; Lamberth 1-(-6); Mercogliano 9-(-8).
PASSING — E: N. Denson 1-8-71-1-1. N: Mercogliano 6-13-62-0-2.
RECEIVING — E: Haring 1-71. N: Snyder 4-35; Buhler 2-27.
The Lakers are scheduled to host Sierra Lutheran on Saturday, Sept. 5, at 1 p.m.
TAHOE CITY — Suiting up and taking the field Saturday was a victory in itself for the North Tahoe football team.
After being forced to cancel their 2014 season with not enough players, the Lakers returned to the gridiron for the first time since 2013 in an 8-man game against visiting Excel Christian.
While the Warriors held off a late charge by the hosts to earn a 44-32 win, the young Lakers gained confidence as the game wore on and left with an optimistic outlook on their future.
“I thought there were a ton of positives to take away,” said longtime North Tahoe coach Scott Everist. “We’re proud of the way the kids played today. As long as we can stay healthy, I think we’re going to win some games this year.”
Led by junior running back/defensive back Nathan Lutz — who was named North Tahoe’s Player of the Game with 195 yards rushing and 16 tackles, including nine solo — the Lakers battled back from a 22-6 first-quarter deficit to make things interesting.
“He was all over the field,” Everist said of Lutz. “That’s why that kid is a captain. The way he plays and his intensity, it’s pretty special.”
North Tahoe closed the gap to six points, 38-32, after recording a safety early in the fourth quarter. But with 2:38 remaining, Excel Christian senior Jake Haring caught a pass behind the North Tahoe secondary and ran untouched to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown to put the game out of reach.
While Lutz enjoyed a big game on both sides of the ball, five different Lakers scored touchdowns on the day. Freshman quarterback and defensive back Thomas Mercogliano was named Offensive Player of the Game, and freshman linebacker and tight end Eli Snyder was Defensive Player of the Game.
The contest seemed destined for a high-scoring final after each team’s opening possession.
Excel Christian drove 57 yards in four plays, ending with a 12-yard touchdown run by quarterback Noah Denson. The Lakers answered with a 63-yard drive on five plays. Big Julio Carrillo, a 5-8, 240-pound fullback, put the exclamation point on the drive with an 8-yard run in which he steamrolled a defender without breaking stride.
The Warriors scored on their next two possessions of the quarter, on a 46-yard run by Haring and a 5-yard run by Matt Gruhn, to take a 22-6 lead. North Tahoe’s defense buckled down to hold the visitors scoreless the rest of the half.
The Lakers scored once in the second quarter to narrow the score to 22-12, as Mercogliano hooked up with a wide-open Snyder in the end zone on an 8-yard pass play. North Tahoe failed on its 2-point conversion attempt, a stat that plagued them throughout the game.
“We just need to convert the PATs. That would have been huge,” said Everist, whose squad was 0-for-5 on conversions. “There’s another (10) points right there, and that could have been a big difference-maker at the end of the game.”
Two plays into the second half, Lutz spun away from a tackle, bounced outside and outraced the defense 64 yards to the end zone. The touchdown brought the score to 22-18.
On the second play of the Warriors’ ensuing possession, however, Denson took off on a quarterback keeper around the right side and sprinted 95 yards for a TD. Gruhn muscled his way in for the conversion as the visitors increased their lead to 30-18.
It was the last highlight of the day for Gruhn, who injured his knee attempting to tackle Lutz shortly after and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher.
North Tahoe sophomore running back Raul Estrada then got in on the scoring action with a 15-yard touchdown run with 8:44 remaining in the third quarter.
The Lakers forced a turnover on downs but then turned the ball over themselves near midfield on a fumble. Excel Christian took advantage with a five-play drive that culminated with an 8 yard TD run by Jeshua Fixel. After a successful conversion, the Warriors led 38-24.
The visitors returned the favor early in the fourth quarter with a fumble that Lutz recovered at the Excel Christian 25-yard line. Four plays later, Mercogliano completed a pass to senior tight end Jacob Buhler, who handled the rest on the 23-yard touchdown play.
After pinning the Warriors deep in their own territory on a booming kick by Brett Hurt — and with help from a block-in-the-back penalty — Snyder tackled Denson on the goal line for a safety, which trimmed the lead to 38-32 with 8:06 left in the game.
North Tahoe pieced together a lengthy drive that ended in a turnover on downs at the Warriors’ 29-yard line. Haring then broke off his 71-yard TD reception. Haring, who led Excel Christian with 166 yards rushing in the first half, had left the game with a leg injury late in the second quarter and missed most of the second half. Thus, his sudden return came as a surprise to the Lakers.
“I could see that they were catching up, so I decided to go back in,” said Haring, who recently moved from Tennessee. Haring said he had been nursing a quad and ankle injury from track season.
With the clock working against them, the Lakers continued to battle, as freshman Dalton Lamberth intercepted a pass in the waning minutes. But time ran out on the comeback attempt.
“Being a young team, I think they kind of had to warm into things, and I think they did,” Everist said of his team, which has 13 freshmen on the roster. “They’re playing North Tahoe football. They’re getting after it. I was happy with our physicality today. We still need to get our pads lower, but overall we didn’t back off and I thought we played pretty well.”
Aside from Lutz, Carrillo gained 76 yards rushing on seven carries, while Snyder finished with 35 yards receiving on four catches. Defensively, Buhler and Hurt each had 10 tackles, Estrada had nine tackles and Snyder had eight. Snyder had the Lakers’ only sack.