SOUTH LAKE TAHOE --Craig Bell appears to have a second sense for finding the football. Especially when its loose.
Bell scored on his third fumble return of the season to start the second half and later caught a touchdown pass to put the finishing touches on the Douglas High School football team's 34-0 Sierra League victory against South Tahoe on Saturday afternoon.
Evan Bill rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns to help Douglas (4-0 league, 6-1 overall) win its sixth straight game. Quarterback Luke Rippee ran for 66 yards and one touchdown, plus he threw for 95 yards and the third-quarter touchdown to Bell on a warm autumn day.
South Tahoe (0-4, 0-7) did make things interesting when Colin Griffin intercepted an attempted screen pass to stop the Tigers' first drive. Then in the second quarter, the Vikings twice drove inside the Douglas 20, only to be turned away both times.
"I told our guys they (South Tahoe) wouldn't be easy," Douglas coach Mike Rippee said. "We're real glad to come away with a win here. They play hard and they play well up here."
The Douglas coaches made sure to remind their players of that at halftime, even though the Tigers went to the locker room with a 20-0 lead.
"We had a little comfort zone, but you want to come out and play a better second half and I thought we set the tone and did that in the third quarter," Rippee said.
South Tahoe received the second half kickoff, but any hopes of mounting a comeback were dashed on the first play when quarterback Robert Smith was run down and hit from behind by defensive tackle Dan McDonald. The hit jarred the ball loose, Bell scooped up the ball at the 17 and ran for the touchdown.
"Our coaches were telling us at halftime to step it up and we stepped it up," McDonald said. "To get a sack and have Craig score a touchdown, that was a good way to start."
Bell, a senior defensive back/wide receiver, returned fumbles for touchdowns against Spanish Springs and Hug earlier this season.
"We haven't done that in a long time," Rippee said. "Craig seems to be in the right place at the right time. We tell the kids, if you fly around and get next to the ball, sometimes good things happen."
The Tigers turned the ball at the outset of the game, however, they scored on the next possession. Rippee returned a punt 25 yards to South Tahoe's 39, then five plays later, Bill swept his right end and ran 4 yards untouched into the end zone.
South Tahoe drove to the 18 early in the second quarter -- sparked by Grant Swinney's 16-yard run up the middle -- but the Vikings lost their momentum on a second-down holding penalty that pushed the ball back to the 30. They eventually lost the ball on downs at the 18.
Douglas answered with an eight-play, 82-yard drive. Bill ran 13 yards for a first down to the 35, sprung by a block from left guard David Silvestro. Rippee scrambled out of trouble and completed an 11-yard pass to Drew Bateman for another first down. Then Andy McIntosh caught a short pass on a slant pattern over the middle, eluded three tackles and burst for a 31-yard gain to the South Tahoe 13. Three plays later, Bill scored on a 6-yard run to make it 13-0.
Douglas extended its lead to 20-0 at the end of the first half on a nine-play, 72-yard drive. Nick Summers caught a 21-yard pass from Rippee on third-and-7 to the South Tahoe 5, then Rippee scored on a 2-yard sneak with 55 seconds showing on the clock.
The Tigers scored their last touchdown midway through the third quarter. Rippee broke a 26-yard run to the South Tahoe 29, then on the next play, the junior quarterback scrambled away from heavy pressure and got off a pass that McIntosh gathered in with a diving effort for another first down at the 4. Two plays later Bell caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Rippee.
"This was a big win. Now we have to get ready for next week against the Huskies. That's for first-place so we've got to start again on Monday," McDonald said.
Douglas travels for a league championship showdown against the Reno Huskies Thursday night.
"Big game. It's another step to the Sierra Division," Bell said. "We've got to step up if we want to beat Reno. We've been working all year and this is the last step right here. This is what we want."