When it came time to make a big play, Carson’s defense came through in a big way.
Thanks to two goal line stands and two interceptions, the Carson Senators knocked off visiting Damonte Ranch, 27-10, Friday night to earn a spot in the regional championship game next Friday night.
Carson improved to 9-2 overall, while Damonte ends its season at 7-4. Carson meets defending regional champion Reed next Friday at 7 p.m. at Damonte Ranch with a spot in the state semifinals on the line.
“I’m just so proud of the defense,” Carson coach Blair Roman said. “To hold an offensive team like Damonte to 10 points is great. Damonte’s offense is as good as we’ve faced all season. We’re a totally different team than the last time we played them (35 points allowed). We’ve made some changes.”
And, Roman has been happy with the overall results; Cody Cunningham was moved to middle linebacker, Brady Rivera to defensive tackle, Nolan Shine to outside linebacker, Joey Thurman to free safety and Asa Carter to strong safety.
The first goal line stand came on the opening drive of the game, and set a tone for the rest of the night. More often than not when Carson needed a stop, it was successful.
Damonte took the opening kick-off and drove from its own 29 down to Carson’s 12. The Senators dug in, stopping Grant Cooper twice for no gain to take the ball on downs.
Unfortunately, the stop went for naught. Carson did drive the ball all the way to Damonte’s 2, but Nevin Elliott, trying to get an extra yard, fumbled the ball away at the Damonte 1. It was the only mistake Elliott made all night, as he ran for 108 yards and a score.
The Mustangs drove all the way from their 1 to Carson’s 15 before settling for a 32-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 9:15 remaining in the half.
Carson took the lead late in the first quarter, driving 76 yards in 15 bone-crunching plays with Elliott redeeming himself with a 1-yard scoring run. Cody Cunningham’s PAT gave the Senators a 7-3 lead with just 24 seconds remaining.
The Carson defense had its worst series of the game to start the second half. Damonte Ranch needed just five plays to cover 67 yards with Cooper scoring on a 13-yard run and adding the extra point for a 10-7 lead with 6:59 left. All five plays in the drive went for double-digit yards, as Carson’s defense had more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese.
Carson stormed back on the ensuing possession, driving 80 yards on 10 plays and one big pass interference penalty.
On second-and-9 from its own 21, Garrett Schafer (163 yards passing) and Alan Cohen (84 yards receiving) hooked up for 22 yards. The duo was successful on another third-down play for 18 yards and a first down at the 41. Facing yet another third down, Cooper was called for pass interference to give Carson 15 yards and a first down at the Damonte 26.
Three plays later, Joey Thurman snuck out of the backfield, caught a pass on the left sideline and out-ran the Damonte defense to the end zone to complete the 31-yard play. Cunningham’s PAT made it 14-10 with 3:32 left in the third.
“That’s the first time we’ve run that play all year,” Roman said.
That set the stage for Carson’s second big defensive gem.
Thanks to Kyle Daugherty passes of 10 and 23 yards to Jared Blake and Robert Carmazzi, and a questionable pass interference call, the Mustangs moved the ball to Carson’s 27. After a holding call, Travis Priestly broke loose for 21 yards down to the CHS 14. Facing a third-and-2 from the Carson 6, Damonte went to Cooper twice to no avail. On the fourth-down play, it was Jesse Knight who made the key stop.
“We’re always going to go for it,” Damonte coach Shawn Durpris said. “We’re not a field goal kicking team. They did a good job.”
“I wasn’t surprised,” Roman said. “They’re trying to win the game. You are on the road and you know you need to score.”
It may have been Knight’s biggest play of the season. Injuries forced Knight to start the season on the offensive side of the ball even though he’s better at defense.
“Those stops showed this team’s heart,” Knight said. “Those stops changed the game. We knew they weren’t going to kick.”
Carson took the momentum from that stop, and drove 94 yards in 12 plays with Schafer and Cohen hooking up for the score from 25 yards out to make it 20-10 with 5:39 left in the game. A key play was a 24-yard reception by Chase Blueberg, who actually fumbled the ball at the end of the play. Thurman dove on it, enabling CHS to retain possession. Carson scored six plays later.
“I just went over their guy to make the catch,” Cohen said of the scoring play.
On Damonte’s next series, Stefan Sobkiewicz intercepted a Daugherty pass. Carson was unable to move the ball despite starting the drive on Damonte’s 40 and was forced to punt. Cooper, surrounded by a couple of CHS players, called for a fair catch, but dropped the ball. Carson’s Rivera recovered at the 13.
Thurman, who accounted for 167 yards (rushing, passing and receiving), scored on a 13-yard run on the next play to put an explanation point on the win.
Carter picked off Daugherty on the next possession, and that enabled Carson to take a knee three times to end the game.