Truckee football | Wolverines win thriller to punch ticket to state
TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; Win 35 was one for the ages and#8212; or perhaps a Hollywood script.
In a tense roller coaster of emotion with a state championship berth on the line Saturday, Truckee and Fallon twice swapped leads in the final 4 minutes, and nearly did one final time with zero seconds remaining.
But to the collective relief of a standing-room crowd packed into Surprise Stadium and#8212; which had just celebrated a highlight TD catch by their Wolverines with 8 seconds left and#8212; the potential game-winning touchdown pass to cap an improbable drive grazed off the fingertips of an open Fallon receiver, and Truckee escaped with a 28-24 win.
and#8220;I feel pretty lucky,and#8221; said an honest Truckee head coach Bob Shaffer, whose Wolverines have won 35 consecutive games, which is tied for the seventh-longest streak in the nation. They will seek a third straight title when they face Moapa Valley in the 3A state championship next week.
and#8220;What a game for the seniors,and#8221; Shaffer continued. and#8220;I told them, and#8216;This is going to be the last time you walk up those steps (at Surprise Stadium), make it one you’ll remember.’ And I don’t know how they’ll forget that one.and#8221;
No one in attendance will soon forget the events that transpired, particularly the final action-packed minutes, which surely added a few grey hairs to both coaching staffs.
and#8220;Our kids played hard, and so did theirs,and#8221; said Fallon head coach Brooke Hill. and#8220;Our program has come a long ways in the last three years. I’m proud of my kids, they battled. But you saw a champion over there that didn’t want to give it up.and#8221;
Nothing about the most recent win was easy for the champs.
After losing fumbles on three straight possessions in the first half and trailing 3-0 at the midway point, Truckee heated up in the third quarter to take a 21-9 lead. The Greenwave responded, however, cutting the lead to 21-16, before Frank de Braga picked off a Truckee pass on the ensuing possession and returned it 55 yards to the end zone, giving Fallon a 24-21 lead with 3:59 remaining in the game.
The drastic momentum swing ignited the visiting side, which was crawling with Fallon faithful overflowing out of the bleachers.
Truckee answered its biggest challenge in three years in dramatic fashion.
Starting from their own 36-yard line, the Wolverines drove to midfield before stalling to a fourth-and-10 with 2:09 remaining. Their win streak and title berth came down to one play, and against an athletic Fallon defense that had been flying around the field all game.
Not to worry. Senior quarterback Patrick Shaffer, cool and collected under pressure, dropped back and drilled a pass into the chest of Zack Pettit for a 14-yard gain and#8212; a pass Pettit later said was directly in the sun as he struggled to make out its silhouette.
Six plays later, after a 13-yard reception by Trevor Auldridge and a 9-yard run by Jake Pettit, Truckee again stalled to face a fourth-down play, this time a fourth-and-1 at the 18-yard line, with 18 seconds left in regulation.
Senior linebacker and fullback Cole Roberts, who recently returned to the lineup after missing several games with a pulled hamstring, got the call. With the season on the line once again, Roberts powered ahead for a 6-yard gain, setting up the Wolverines with a first down at the 12.
The next play will go down in Truckee football history.
Shaffer, calm and gathered once again, spun a ball with a soft touch over the outstretched reach of Fallon’s Skye Barton and into the sure-handed grip of junior receiver Erik Holmer, who made an off-balance grab while falling to his back near the goal-line pylon with just 8 ticks left on the clock.
Truckee players erupted into a scene of elation, drawing a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration, as Austin Ferreira kicked through the PAT for a 28-24 lead.
and#8220;Coach got me outside, and I was looking for the ball, looking for a mismatch,and#8221; said Holmer, who’s also Truckee’s backup quarterback. and#8220;Pat threw a great pass. That last drive was ridiculously good. Our offensive line stepped up and Pat threw such a good ball. All I had to do was put my hands on it.and#8221;
But the game wasn’t over. Eight seconds remained on the clock, and Fallon, which had already proven capable of breaking off a big play, had the ball at the Truckee 42-yard line after Barton returned the penalty-enforced squib kickoff.
With just 4 seconds now remaining, Greenwave quarterback Morgan Dirickson hit Alonzo Williams, who quickly pitched the ball back to speedy running back Shawntrell Hubbard on a desperation hook-and-ladder play.
Hubbard was marked out of bounds at the 22 but continued running amid the commotion along the Fallon sideline. Roberts, meanwhile, closed in on the play in a hurry and blasted Hubbard, who was still running toward the end zone.
As Hubbard lay shaken up on the sideline, officials flagged Roberts for a late hit, which set up the Greenwave with one final play from the 11-yard line, with no time remaining.
The next play could have made Fallon football history. Dirickson had de Braga, open, streaking into the end zone. But the sophomore quarterback put a little too much mustard on the ball as it sailed just off the fingertips of the diving de Braga.
and#8220;We knew they were going to bring up five guys on the line,and#8221; Dirickson said. and#8220;I saw it coming open … I got a little antsy, a little bit nervous. I needed to wait a split-second longer and put some more touch on it. It was, I believe, the game.and#8221;
and#8220;It shouldn’t have been that way,and#8221; Roberts said, referring to Fallon’s opportunity to win on the final play. and#8220;We shot ourselves in the foot and gave them a chance. But a win is a win.and#8221;
The Wolverines indeed shot themselves in the foot, on multiple occasions.
After punting on its first possession of the game, Truckee coughed up fumbles to the Greenwave on its next three drives, all of which were moving along promisingly.
Jake Pettit lost the first fumble, which set up a 42-yard field goal by Williams to give Fallon an early 3-0 lead.
Shaffer lost the next fumble when he was blindsided while winding up to pass, and running back Tyler Curtis lost the next one after Truckee drove down the field with plays of 15, 25 and 18 yards.
Truckee’s defense held strong, however, holding Hubbard in check and keeping the game tight by forcing five punts. Ferreira attempted a 46-yard field goal in the second quarter that sailed wide left.
The Wolverines opened the second half with a 59-yard touchdown drive in six plays that ended with a 2-yard run by Curtis, who led Truckee’s rushing attack with 107 yards on 18 carries.
After being bottled up with no room to run the entire first half, Hubbard took the handoff two plays into Fallon’s ensuing possession, found a crease to the sideline and turned on the burners en route to a 77-yard touchdown run. Kai Goodpaster tried to catch Hubbard from behind, but it was no use against the defending 100-meter dash state champion.
The lead again belonged to Fallon, 9-7, after the extra-point attempt failed.
The Wolverines drove the ball right back down the field in seven plays, capped by a 9-yard touchdown run by Curtis that gave Truckee a 14-9 lead.
Three plays later, Luke Theis stepped in front of a Dirickson pass deep in Fallon territory and returned it all the way to the 3-yard line. Justin Carter punched it across the goal line the next play, and Ferriera kicked through the extra point to give Truckee what seemed like a comfortable 21-9 lead with 3:21 left in the third quarter.
But the lead was far from safe.
Fallon needed just six plays to drive 80 yards on its next drive, which benefitted from pass plays of 17, 20 and 33 yards before Dirickson ran it in himself on an option from 9 yards out, trimming the lead to 21-16 to end the quarter.
Truckee proceeded to eat into the clock with a run-heavy drive that screeched to a halt at the 49. A bad snap on the punt attempt set up the Greenwave at the Truckee 31-yard line, but Truckee’s defense stiffened to force a turnover on downs.
As the Wolverines again drove the ball with efficient runs, they slowed to a third-and-8 at the 42 after a delay of game penalty. Shaffer fired a ball to Braden Waters, who grabbed it on his hip as de Braga swept in with perfect timing and, in one motion, stripped the ball from Waters and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.
and#8220;They kept throwing that comeback route,and#8221; de Braga said. and#8220;I just read it, cheated a little bit and ripped it from him and took it to the house.and#8221;
It seemed a crippling blow as the Greenwave regained the lead, 24-21, with just 3:59 left.
The champs were not about to go out like that, though. They drove 64 yards in 13 plays, using the key fourth-down plays along the way, to pull out the nerve-wracking, seesaw victory.
Their spirited home crowd and#8212; which countered chants of and#8220;Break the streakand#8221; from the Fallon side with their own and#8220;Keep the streakand#8221; chant in the second half and#8212; appreciated every second of it, despite all the torturous moments.
and#8220;They’re amazing,and#8221; said Waters. and#8220;Without them we’re nothing. Without them we would have lost this game.and#8221;
Coach Shaffer credited his players for the gutsy effort.
and#8220;Talk about internal resiliency,and#8221; he said. and#8220;They never gave up. They believed in us making the calls and they went out and got the job done.and#8221;
and#8220;We kept fighting,and#8221; said Holmer, and#8220;even after the pick-six. We kept fighting and fighting and we knew we couldn’t give up. It was just a good team effort.and#8221;
and#8220;I’m kind of at a loss for words right now,and#8221; Hill said. and#8220;It was just a great football game.and#8221;
Truckee will face Moapa Valley for a fourth straight year in the 3A state championship game, which is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 19 at Damonte Ranch High School in Reno.
Moapa Valley defeated visiting Lowry, 19-6, on Saturday to advance to the state championship.
Truckee defeated Moapa Valley each of the past two years in the title game, 27-7 last year and 27-0 in 2009, while Moapa Valley was the last team to beat Truckee, 35-16, in the 2008 state championship.
“We’ll try to keep them from evening it up,” coach Shaffer said, referring to the last four years of the rivalry.
Find a photo gallery from the state semifinal thriller at http://www.sierrasun.com/win35.
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Students frustrated at the cancellation of sports waved signs and delivered speeches at a Truckee High School protest in an attempt to return to the field this year.