RENO — If not for a couple of unlucky breaks, Carson High might very well have won its first regional title in more than 50 years.
The underdog Senators, who lost by 38 points in the first meeting against Reed in late September, battled the perennial powerhouse Raiders down to the wire before losing 47-39 in the Division I regional championship game Friday night at Damonte Ranch High School.
Carson finishes the season with a 9-3 record, while Reed improved to 11-1. The Raiders will host Liberty next Saturday at 1 p.m. in the state semifinals. Gorman hosts Palo Verde next Saturday in the other state semifinal game.
It was a game that Carson fans have grown accustomed to seeing. The Senators were outgained by nearly 100 yards by the Raiders, yet hung around and made it interesting down to the final minutes when Garrett Schafer tried to connect with Alan Cohen in the end zone. Reed cornerback Sean Lancaster picked off the pass to kill Carson’s final scoring threat with about a minute left in the game.
It was a somber Blair Roman that faced the media after the game. Normally, he talks to his team first win or lose. He opted instead to visit with the media first, electing his team the opportunity to console each other.
“First of all credit Reed for playing a tremendous game,” Roman said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my team. This is great group of kids. We played a good game tonight, but just came up a little short.
“We had a couple of breaks that didn’t go our way tonight, and that is part of the game. I’m proud of the defense. They fought hard and got a stop, finally (late fourth quarter). We had a chance to tie it at the end.”
After Reed scored on its first three possession of the second half, Carson forced the first three and out of the game late in the fourth quarter. A 29-yard punt by Jesse Brock gave the Senators, who also scored on their first three drives of the second half, excellent field position at their own 40.
Four carries by Nevin Elliott moved the ball to the Reed 39. On first down, Schafer fired a 15-yard strike to Cohen for a first down at the 24. After a short gain by Elliott (27 carries, 116 yards), Carson was backed up five yards on a false start and then Schafer, under a heavy rush, threw an incomplete pass. On the next play, he tried to hook up with Cohen and Lancaster sealed the game with the interception. Schafer completed 16 of 29 for 187 yards.
While that was a crucial mistake, there were others that put Carson behind the 8-ball early.
The Senators took the opening kickoff and drove from their own 38 all the way down to the Reed 9. Schafer misfired on second and third down, forcing Carson to go for a field goal. Cody Cunningham came up short on the 26-yard attempt.
“The ball slipped off the tee,” Roman said. “I don’t know if it was because it was damp out there or not.”
“It was on the side of the tee,” Cunningham said.
Reed ripped off an 80-yard, six-play drive that ended with Jorden Carter dashing 12 yards into the end zone. Brock’s PAT made it 7-0. The opening drive was a precursor of what was to come. Carson couldn’t get the job done against Reed’s punishing running game, especially Jordan DeLeon (27 carries for 194 yards) and quarterback Christopher Denn (21 carries, 160 yards). The duo gashed Carson for big gains all night.
Thanks to a fumbled punt by Wade Eiler that was covered by Seamus Burns at the Reed 14, Carson was able to tie the score at 7 on Elliott’s 2-yard TD run.
Carson’s defense had a nice stop on fourth-and-one at the Reed 47 on the first play of the second quarter.
Carson again drove into the red zone against Reed, but had to settled for a 24-yard field goal by Cunningham and a 10-7 lead, which would be the Senators’ last lead of the contest.
Reed scored 16 unanswered points for a 23-10 lead with 2:47 left in the half.
DeLeon had a 13-yard scoring run to make it 14-10, and then four plays later, the Raiders had a 16-10 lead when punter Stefan Sobkiewicz’s knee apparently hit the ground when he tried to field a low snap from long snapper Cunningham. That whole sequence was set up when Andrew Gutierrez’s knee hit the ground while trying to field Brock’s kickoff.
“I didn’t think it (my knee) did hit the ground,” Sobkiewicz said. “I wasn’t concerned with that because I was trying to just pick up the snap and get the ball off.”
Carson chose to kick the ball off instead of punting after the safety, and the Raiders drove 59 yards in five plays with DeLeon scoring from the 3 to make it 23-10.
The Senators needed a score, and the offense delivered.
Carson drove 80 yards on 10 plays with Schafer throwing a 7-yard strike to Cohen with 27.4 left in the half to make it 23-17 after Cunningham’s extra point.
With Carson sitting in a prevent defense, Reed chewed up big chunks of yardage on the ground. The offense got close enough that Brock was able to kick a 27-yard field goal to make it 26-17 on the final play of the half.
Then, like true heavyweight fighters, the teams started trading scores.
Reed drove 67 yards to open the second half with Denn scoring on a 13-yard run for a 33-17 lead. Carson answered with a 76-yard scoring drive of its own capped by Elliott’s 11-yard run. Thurman’s 2-point conversion pass made it 33-25 with 5:21 left.
With DeLeon running rampant, the Raiders scored on the ensuing drive, going 83 yards with DeLeon getting 45 of it, including the final yard on a fourth-down plunge to make it 40-25 with 56 ticks left in the third.
Sophomore Asa Carter picked up the ensuing kickoff on the bounce and returned it 49 yards to the Reed 33, setting up Schafer’s first of two TD passes to Chase Blueberg which made it 40-32.
“I should of cut back,” said Carter, who was run out of bounds by the kicker. “I thought I had the sideline.”
Carson failed at its onside kick, and Reed drove 43 yards for a score to make it 47-32 with 11:37 left in the game.
Carson held the ball for nearly eight minutes and cashed in for the final time when Blueberg and Schafer hooked up for a 9-yard TD. The PAT made it an eight-point game.