LOVELOCK — Carson football coach Blair Roman didn’t mince any words.
“I thought the game was really ugly,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but I saw a lot of positives to take away from this game.”
One was the way the defense played in the final 23-plus minutes, and the second was the play of quarterback Garrett Schafer, who threw for 198 yards and two scores in the Senators’ season-opening 23-13 come-from-behind win over Hug at Joe Yanni Field on Saturday afternoon.
“In the fourth quarter, the defense played very well, and we were able to beat a very improved Hug team,” Roman said. “Garrett made some exceptional plays. He’s going to get better.”
Two plays, both on special teams, steered the game in Carson’s favor in the fourth quarter.
Hug led 13-9 early in the fourth quarter when the proverbial roof caved in.
Facing a fourth-and-4 from their own 35, the Hawks’ long snapper snapped it over the head of the punter, who fell on the ball back at the 5-yard line with Nolan Shine in hot pursuit.
On first down, Schafer tried to complete a pass to lanky Alan Cohen, but badly overthrew the 6-foot-4 receiver. The duo hooked up on the next play to give the Senators a 15-13 lead with 8:30 remaining. Stefan Sobkiewicz added the extra point for a three-point cushion.
Carson’s defense held again on the next possession, and Hug dropped back to punt from its own 17. The result was a 24-yard effort, giving Carson prime field position at the Hawks’ 41.
The Senators didn’t waste it.
After Schafer threw two incomplete passes, he completed a screen to fullback Nevin Elliott, who rambled all the way down to the 10.
“We had run that play before,” Roman said. “Nevin saw something inside the first time. The second time he made the right cut, it was a good call at the right time.”
After two offside penalties against Hug, Joey Thurman scored from the 2, and Sobkiewicz added the extra point to make it 23-13 with 5:35 left.
The 10-point lead forced Hug into passing situations, and kept the ball out of the hands of Titus Tau, who made Carson’s defense look like swiss cheese at times with his 214-yard rushing effort.
On the first snap following Thurman’s TD, Hug quarterback Dikembe Montgomery threw a pass toward the left sideline intended for Frederick Tatum. Andrew Gutierrez intercepted the ball and his short return gave the Senators the ball at the 30. Carson went three-and-out, and Sobkiewicz’s 46-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright.
Hug got the ball back for three plays before Montgomery and his receiver had a miscommunication resulting in another interception, this one by Dilyn Rooker at the Carson 45. The Senators kept the ball on the ground and were able to run out the clock.
When all was said and done, both coaches agreed the bad snap on fourth down was the play of the game.
“No question about it,” Roman said.
“The bad snap just killed us,” Hug coach Derek Bennett said. “Special teams are a key part of the game. You make plays like that and then we jumped offside twice. The kids kept playing hard. I’m proud of my kids.”
Hug took an early 7-0 lead, scoring on its first possession, following a Carson punt.
Tau scampered 24 yards on a third-and-9 play to give the Hawks a first down at the Carson 33. He also eluded Carson linebacker Brady Rivera for a 9-yard gain and a first down at the Carson 2. The Senators held tough on three straight running plays before Montgomery faked a handoff and kept it, easily getting into the endzone. The PAT made it 7-0 with 6:21 left.
Carson, which only had two positive-yardage rushing plays on its first two possessions, went to the air with good results on their third possession.
Wingback Gutierrez got loose behind the Hug secondary, and Schafer lofted a pass into his arms. Gutierrez outraced the Hawks’ secondary into endzone to make it 7-6 with 11:41 left in the half. Sobkiewicz missed the extra point.
“The cornerback came up,” Gutierrez said. “Garrett made a good call.”
“They were committing nine people in the box to stop the run,” Roman said. “They did a nice job of taking away the run game. A couple of their guys made some good plays.”
Carson failed on a chance to cash in on a Hug turnover on the next possession. Gutierrez forced the fumble and Sobkiewicz fell on Tau’s fumble at the Hug 28. The drive stalled immediately, and Schafer’s fourth-down pass ticked off Rooker’s hands inside the 5.
The Hawks drove down to Carson’s 26 on their next series, but turned the ball over on downs.
That set the stage for the second big hookup from Schafer and Gutierrez. On third -and-15 from the Carson 21, Schafer completed a 55-yarder to Gutierrez down the middle to the Hug 24. Nevin Elliott gained 11 on the next play down to the 13, Sobkiewicz came on to kick a 25-yard field goal for a 9-7 lead with 3:57 left in the half.
Hug regained the lead on he first snap of the third quarter when Tau broke loose for an 81-yard scoring run. Maybe that woke Carson’s defense up. Hug managed just four first downs the rest of the game, all on the same drive, and Tau had just 45 rushing yards the rest of the game.
“They wanted to stop the run,” Bennett said. “It’s what we do best. We were not able to make plays (late in the game).”
That set the stage for Carson to steal the game away with two fourth-quarter scores, including Schafer’s second TD pass of the game.
“I thought I played OK,” Schafer said. “There are some things I’ll be working on for next week.”
NOTES: Hug’s bus didn’t show up on time, and the Hawks didn’t arrive at the field until 25 minutes before kick-off which forced the game to start approximately 20 minutes late ... The game was moved to Lovelock on Thursday afternoon when the NIAA canceled games in seven different counties because of the wild fire in Yosemite. It forced teams to scramble to find alternate locations. Lowry High hosted two games Friday night, Douglas-Reno and North Valleys-Damonte Ranch ... Hug has a girl kicker, Elizabeth Rizzo, who converted a PAT after the Hawks’ first score ... Carson is scheduled to play at Reno next Friday.