Truckee football | Wolverines cap year with comeback victory
The South Tahoe football team had complete control of the Sierra Bowl after the first half on Friday night — then it began to slip away. Truckee scored three unanswered touchdowns to rally from a 19-point halftime deficit and hand the Vikings a heartbreaking 22-19 loss at Viking Stadium in the season finale for both teams.
“I’m pleased with the win,” said Truckee coach Josh Ivens. “The way our team played was definitely like two different teams between the first and second half. But being down 19 points, we haven’t overcome a deficit like that all year. So it was good to see that our guys could come back like that. It was a good ending to the year.”
The Vikings (2-8, 2-7 Northern I-A) had all the momentum headed into the break. But after the teams returned to a rain-soaked field for the second half, Truckee (5-5, 4-5) quickly changed the tone of the game.
The Wolverines’ second-half rally began with a methodical scoring drive on the opening possession of the third quarter. Truckee drove 70 yards on a 12-play drive that chewed up half the period and featured a pair of fourth-down conversions — a play after the second successful fourth down, senior running back Gabe Deiro found the end zone from 4 yards out.
Truckee went for two after the score, and a carry from running back Tanner Sawyer cut South Tahoe’s lead to 19-8 with 5:21 left in the third quarter. The Vikings got a first down on the next drive before stalling near midfield — an 11-yard punt by Stone Merkley gave the Wolverines the ball back at their own 40-yard line.
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Truckee gained 40 yards on its first three plays to get in the red zone — on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Wolverines had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Tyler Davis scored on a sneak from 1 yard out — after an unsuccessful two-point try, South Tahoe held a 19-14 lead with 10:38 to play.
“They started running the ball a little bit — credit to them for pounding it up on us,” South Tahoe coach Kevin Hennessee said. “We started overpursuing and they were cutting back and finding the lanes.”
Penalties on two straight plays backed up the Vikings on the ensuing possession, and they had to punt facing a fourth-and-32 from their own 28-yard line. On the kick, Truckee completed its comeback with a big special teams play.
Sawyer caught Merkley’s punt outside the right hash and headed to the sideline where a wall of Truckee blockers paved the way. Sawyer eluded a diving Merkley at the 18-yard line on his way to the end zone for a 62-yard return that put the Wolverines ahead with 5:49 left — his ensuing two-point conversion run made the score 22-19.
“That was a killer,” Hennessee said. “As soon as he missed and they made that wall return, he was gone.”
South Tahoe drove all the way to Truckee’s 18-yard line on the next possession — but three straight incompletions ended the march. Following a timeout, quarterback Mason Cain overthrew receiver Corey McCarthy in the end zone on fourth-and-9 — and the Wolverines ran out the last 2:19 to seal the comeback victory.
“We played more physically in the second half,” Ivens said, adding that Truckee’s secondary took a couple of chances in the first half with interception attempts that did not pay off. “We were able to grind out a couple of long drives and chew clock. That’s kind of what has kept us in games all year, is getting our running game going and keeping our defense off the field.”
The first half was a different story as the hosts dominated the first two quarters.
The Vikings took the first possession of the game for a touchdown, driving 10 plays in 70 yards to take a 7-0 lead. A 17-yard run by Merkley after a mishandled punt snap kept the drive alive, and five plays later Cain connected with receiver Kirby David for an 8-yard touchdown.
Later in the first quarter, Cain hit receiver Will Mori for a 38-yard touchdown that put South Tahoe ahead 13-0.
Truckee had first-and-goal at the 5-yard line on the ensuing possession, but a handoff to running back Sean Bokinskie was botched and South Tahoe linebacker Dylan Gardner fell on the loose ball to end the threat. The Vikings then marched 92 yards in eight plays — Cain’s 26-yard touchdown pass to David made the score 19-0 with 8:08 left in the half.
“We were on fire in the first half — no question,” said Hennessee, whose Vikings held the Wolverines to 107 yards of offense while forcing a pair of turnovers — Mori’s pick before the half ended a drive near midfield.
Truckee ran for 237 yards in the win, led by Deiro’s 108 yards on 13 carries — Sawyer carried for 60 yards and sophomore Wulfe Retzlaff rushed for 40 yards. Davis threw for 70 yards and an interception on 6-of-13 passing.
Cain finished 19-of-35 passing with 213 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for the Vikings — the junior ended the regular season as Northern Nevada’s leading passer with 2,383 yards.
Mori had two catches for 54 yards and a score. He took a pair of big hits in the second half, however, and his absence down the stretch took away one of South Tahoe’s main weapons on both sides of the ball
“When Will got whacked, everything kind of changed a little bit — it took that deeper threat on that side away and it felt different on the sidelines,” Hennessee said.
In its three second-half possessions, South Tahoe gained only 86 yards and had only five first downs.
The Truckee win marked the fifth straight over the Vikings since the teams became league mates again in 2010. Historically, Truckee and South Tahoe were rivals in California’s CIF, which is when the Sierra Bowl originated. Ivens and Hennessee revived the tradition this season when they brought back the Sierra Bowl trophy — a wooden bowl.
While the Wolverines have had a couple of relatively down seasons compared to their run of four consecutive state championships from 2009 to 2012, Ivens said he’s optimistic about the future. He brought up the top five players from Truckee’s promising sophomore class, while the Wolverines are set to lose only four starters on defense and three on offense to graduation. Additionally, Ivens said the upcoming freshman and eighth-grade classes boast talented athletes whom he expects to bolster the program.
“I think we have all the making of a great offseason,” he said. “We have momentum and a good young group coming up.”
Sun Sports Editor Sylas Wright contributed to this story.
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