DAYTON — Austin Fletcher would love to end his Dayton High career with a playoff appearance and the school rushing record.
On Friday, he took a big step toward accomplishing both of the goals, rushing for 269 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Dust Devils to a 44-29 win over Wooster Friday night in a Division 1A football game.
The win kept Dayton’s playoff hopes alive. The Dust Devils evened their league record to 3-3 heading into next Friday’s critical road game at Elko. Dayton trails Lowry, Fernley and Elko by two games. Fallon is alone at the top with a 6-0 record.
“The seniors deserve it, especially Austin,” said wide receiver Julio Meza, who had two TD catches and an interception. “Our goal is to try to get them there.”
“It was a huge win,” coach Rob Turner said. “Every game in our league is a must win. We have to focus on the game in front of us. We have a very tough game at Elko next week.”
Fletcher’s explosive offensive game gives him 1,145 yards for the season. The school record is 1,348 set by Eric Hopper in 2005. Barring injury, Fletcher, who had scoring runs of 3, 41, 2 and 66 yards, needs to average around 70 yards a game over the last three contests to become the new DHS rushing king. His output on Friday came despite the fact that he missed parts of several series’ resting on the sideline.
“Coach (Turner) is just trying to save me; trying to keep me fresh so I can finish the season and get the rushing record,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher and Wooster’s Fea Sofara, two of the best backs in Northern 1A football, staged quite a battle. Sofara had a nice game himself, rushing for 188 yards on 24 carries, but managed just one trip into the endzone.
“I definitely wanted to get more yards than him,” Fletcher said. “I’m very competitive. He’s a cool kid. We were talking to each other the whole game.”
Every week, the Dust Devils rely heavily on Fletcher, and he’s never let them down despite the fact he’s a marked man.
“He knows we rely on him, and every week he rises to the occasion,” Turner said. “He’s so physically strong; so tough to bring down.”
Fletcher may have bumps and bruises when he wakes up today, but there is no question he doled out some punishment to Wooster’s defensive unit.
It was Wooster who had Dayton’s defense back on its collective heels on the opening drive. The Colts went 56 yards on eight plays with Hunter Triplett tossing a 5-yard scoring pass to Michael Sowers. Dayton blocked the PAT.
The next drive was all about Fletcher. The Dust Devils went 80 yards on six plays and a penalty, and Fletcher was responsible for every yard. He had an 18-yard run on a second-and-10 play, and then followed that up with a 44-yard scamper down to the Wooster 18. A personal foul at the end of the run gave Dayton a first down at the 9. Three plays later, Fletcher scored from the 3, tying the game at 6.
Wooster drove to Dayton’s 16, but came up empty on the next possession.
Meza, who had 90 all-purpose yards, made two big plays on the ensuing drive. He gained 33 yards on an end-around to the Wooster 43, and five plays later caught an 18-yard scoring pass from Davis Winebarger. Fletcher’s 2-point conversion run made it 14-6 with 9:32 left in the half.
“That TD was all about the quarterback,” Meza said. “If he doesn’t put it in the right spot, I don’t score.”
After another good series by the defense, Dayton drove 64 yards for a score with Fletcher covering the final 41 yards on a play that saw him break through a couple of tackles. The score was helped by a 30-yard run by Skyler Berntson. Jesse Garcia’s PAT made it 21-6.
The Dust Devils had a chance to stomp on the Colts moments later after Meza picked off a pass at the Dayton 45 and returned it to the Colts’ 28.
“The coaches tell me to stay in my backpedal until the quarterback releases the ball,” Meza said.
Winebarger, however, fumbled three plays later, and Wooster recovered.
Sofara bolted 67 yards on the second play of the third quarter, and then Triplett threw a 2-point conversion pass to make it 21-14. Dayton wasted another short-field opportunity after a Fletcher interception near midfield midway through the period. The Dust Devils started a second possession inside Wooster territory on their next possession, and when the drive stalled, Benji Ply came on to kick a 44-yard field goal to make it 24-14 with 53.3 left in the third.
A jarring hit and recovery by Josh Koch led to another short-field score by the Devils. Koch recovered the ball at the Wooster 18. Four plays and a penalty later, Fletcher scored from the 2 and Garcia added the PAT to make it 31-14 with 9:43 left in the game.
The teams traded scores on the ensuing possessions. Triplett threw a 22-yard pass to Alex Anguiano to make it 31-21, and after recovering the onside kick near midfield, the Dust Devils drove in for what would prove to be the game-winning score when Winebarger tossed a 12-yard pass to Meza, who finished with three catches for 60 yards. The kick failed, leaving Dayton on top 37-21
“I actually ran the wrong route,” Meza admitted. “I was supposed to run a post and I ran a fade.”
Sowers and Triplett hooked up again to make it 37-27 with 1:14 left. After back-to-back pass interference calls on Dayton, Sofara scored on the conversion run to make it 37-29.
The game was over when Wooster was unable to recover the onside kick, and Fletcher put an exclamation point on his great night with a 66-yard scoring run.
The only thing that didn’t go right for Fletcher was that he got beat out for homecoming king, but no doubt he’ll take the yards and the victory anytime.