RENO — From the outhouse to the penthouse. From last to first. The Senators have risen again.
Thanks to an opportunistic defense and two touchdown passes by Garrett Schafer, the Senators won their fourth championship in five years with a 45-28 win over Bishop Manogue Thursday night at DJ Benardis Field.
Carson, which went winless last year in Sierra League play, improved to 3-0 in league going into next Friday’s game at Douglas. Manogue falls to 1-3, and is out of the playoffs.
“It does feel great,” Carson coach Blair Roman said. “I’m really proud of how the kids bought in. They don’t care about stats. They play as a team. They play hard.”
“It feels great,” said offensive tackle Aaron Cowee. “We’ve had a great season. We have a bunch of hard-working guys.”
Carson didn’t go bonkers after the game. There was no dogpile. The Senators still have Douglas left, and they would like nothing better than to avenge last year’s season-ending loss and have a clean league record going into the post-season.
“That’s our first goal is to beat our rival,” Roman said. “The seniors have a chance to beat Douglas, and that’s a big deal.”
It is, but it’s nice to go into the finale without the pressure of having to win. Thanks to a season-high five sacks and a couple of key second-half interceptions by Cody Cunningham and Asa Carter, the Senators have that luxury.
“We made a couple of good plays at the right time,” Roman said. “We were opportunistic. Manogue moved the ball on us all night (425 yards). (Jack) Sanders is a great athlete. We had a hard time containing him.”
Leading 18-14 at the half, Carson took the opening kick-off and drove 65 yards in nine plays with Nevin Elliott (120 yards) covering the final 26. Stefan Sobkiewicz’s PAT made it 25-14 with 8:14 left in the third quarter. Carson converted one third- and one fourth-down play, both by Elliott, on the drive. Elliott accounted for 57 of the 65 yards on the drive.
Sanders, who passed for 324 yards, guided the Miners inside the Carson red zone on the ensuing drive. That’s when disaster struck. Sanders threw one over the middle that was tipped by Nolan Shine and intercepted by Cunningham at the 14. Cunningham returned it 31 yards to his own 45.
“Nolan tipped it,” Cunningham said. “I had to run under, and I barely caught it.”
Two plays later, Schafer and Chase Blueberg hooked up for a 49-yard TD that had disaster written all over it. The pass was almost intercepted by a Manogue defender, but Blueberg evaded a tackler and took it down the right sideline for the score to extend the lead to 32-14 with 4:13 left.
“That’s the first time we’ve used that play all year,” Roman said. “I’ve had that play in my back pocket. Chase ran the route too shallow which is why their cornerback was right there.”
The Carson defense came up with another big play on the next drive. Sanders, who was Houdini-like with his ability to escape pressure all night, got out of the pocket on a third-and-8 play. He tried to shovel the ball to a receiver along the sideline, but Carter swooped in for the pick at the Manogue 25.
“He was just trying to flip it,” Carter said. “It went straight into my hands. They drove the ball well on us all night, but in the second half we ended up getting turnovers and gave our offense great field position.”
Three plays after Carter’s interception, Schafer lofted a pass to Corey Reid, who went to the ground but held on to the ball. It was just his second catch of the season and first TD. The PAT gave Carson a commanding 39-14 lead with 2:07 left in the third, capping a 21-0 third-period onslaught. It was Schafer’s last pass of the game, and he made it a good one.
“He played a tremendous game,” Roman said. “He made a couple of key check-offs at the line. I think it’s his best game since the first half of the Reed game.”
“I feel pretty good,” said Schafer, who was 8-for-10 passing for a season-high 229 yards. “I’m getting better as the season goes on.”
Manogue drove 71 yards on its next drive, and Sanders capped the drive with a 17-yard TD pass to Juan Aparicio on a fourth-and-16 play. Sanders somehow avoided the sack and got the ball to Aparicio, who made it to the end zone. The PAT made it 39-21.
Carson’s Alan Cohen covered and returned the onside kick to the Manogue 44, and Elliott and Seamus Burns took over from there. The two fullbacks combined for 45 yards on the drive with Burns scoring for the first time all year on a 10-yard run to make it 45-21 with 5:23 left. After an exchange of punts, Manogue scored a meaningless touchdown with 18.8 seconds left.
It was a nice finish in what was an ugly start for the Senators, who allowed TDs on Manogue’s first two drives, and then nothing until the last 8 1/2 minutes of the game.
“We wanted it more,” Cunningham said. “We thought about how much it meant, and we stepped up.”
NOTES: Cohen had his first 100-yard game as a receiver with three grabs for 101 and Carson’s first score ... Several players and coaches from Douglas were on hand to scout the Senators for next week’s showdown ...Austin Schaffer had his first catch of the year, a middle screen, for 35 yards... Schafer used seven different receivers and Sanders used seven during the game... The teams combined for 829 yards of total offense.