If last weekend was any kind of a gauge, then fans can expect to see the Carson Senators and Galena Grizzlies battle right to the end of regulation, and maybe beyond, in their non-league football game tonight.
Both teams opened with exciting games last weekend -- Carson lost to Elko in overtime, 19-13, and Galena held off Wooster for a 19-18 victory -- and with the start of league play now just one week away, both teams have plenty of incentive coming into their 7:30 p.m. game at Galena.
"I wish it had been just a little better," Carson coach Shane Quilling said. "We made too many mistakes to get it done. We had our opportunities; three real big mistakes cost us the game.
"But these are non-conference games and you've just got to learn from them and go from there. We open up next week in league against Hug and that's what we're aiming for."
Last year, Carson turned the ball over on three of four possessions to start the game and Galena cashed in with two early touchdowns that led to a 25-14 victory. Both teams went on to qualify for the Northern 4A playoffs.
Their season openers were decided at the wire this past weekend. Carson rallied from a 13-0 deficit to take Elko into overtime on Friday night. Galena stopped a two-point PAT attempt with 47 seconds left in the fourth quarter and then the defense held again after Wooster recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Carson's veer offense showed a one-two punch against Elko as quarterback Frank Bleuss rushed for 113 yards on 29 carries and Chris Kotter added 105 yards on 23 carries. Bleuss had three carries for the Senators in their overtime possession, but he was stopped inches from the goal line on the third and fourth down plays.
"They executed (in the overtime) and we didn't. We just needed to stay with our blocks a little longer ... and Frankie would have walked in on that last play," Quilling said.
Galena's Warren Whitley ran for two touchdowns against Wooster, including a 40-yard scoring burst. Quarterback Pat Flynn also threw for 93 yards and Brandon Morales caught six passes for 69 yards.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies were led by their "Yellow Brick Wall" defense. Inside linebacker Matt Fry blocked two punts that set up touchdowns and he blocked a PAT attempt, Todd Curtis came up with a drive-ending interception and David Kirn intercepted a pass at the end of the game to seal Galena's victory.
Carson also had some defensive highlights against Elko. Among those:
-- Junior middle linebacker Nick Shine was in on 14 tackles, including a touchdown-saving tackle on Dallas Boyer at the 2 in the fourth quarter. One play later, Shine and Mike Moore led a charge that stopped Boyer on third-and-goal. The plays were important because Elko's 20-yard field goal attempt to break a 13-13 tie with 1:31 remaining failed.
-- With the score 0-0 in the second quarter, inside linebacker John Stewart stopped Boyer on third-and-goal and then Elko missed a 21-yard field goal attempt.
-- Ricky Freeman forced a fumble that Allen Wooldridge recovered for Carson in the first quarter, but the Senators were unable to cash in on a first-and-goal opportunity.
-- Jack Brooks had two quarterback sacks in the first half and recovered a fumbled punt in the third quarter that set up Carson's first touchdown.
"Except for two or three plays on defense, we played pretty solid all game," Quilling said. "We missed three key tackles on all three long gains, otherwise those should have been 1- or 2-yard gains."
Likewise, the Senators had some key plays on the offensive side -- plays that went both ways:
-- After Elko's missed field goal, the Senators drove to their own 41 and had a third-and-1 play thwarted by an illegal motion penalty. The Senators punted and Elko answered with a two-play touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead.
-- On Carson's first scoring drive, the Senators faced third-and-1 from Elko's 13 and quarterback Frank Bleuss snuck for one yard and the first down behind 160-pound center Nathan White, who was head-up on Elko's 6-3, 255-pound Jeff Cavender. "He really played well for a guy weighing 160 pounds. As a matter of fact he graded out the best," Quilling said of White, who started at center in place of injured senior Andrew Candia (6-0, 230).
-- Carson scored again on its next possession with the aid of a fourth down conversion in which Michael Handley ran nine yards on a fake punt on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
-- Bleuss broke what appeared to be a 95-yard touchdown run to break the 13-13 tie with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, but the run was negated by an illegal downfield block.
"It was right there. We just didn't grab it and take advantage of it," Quilling said. "It's all about execution, but I was proud of the way the kids played hard. They (Elko) knew they were in a game. It was a good confidence builder, but it was still a loss. If we can build on that and get better, then that's what it's all about."
Last week's line score:
Elko 19, Carson 13, OT
E--Boyer 21 run (Milligan kick), 3:57
E--Zander 50 run (kick blocked), 9:09
C--Bleuss 1 run (kick failed), 3:43
C--Kotter 1 run (Leck kick), 9:48
E--Boyer 2 run
Elko (43-289): Boyer 27-135, Zander 9-108, Hughey 1-55, Wines 1-1, Rhoden 5-(minus) 10. Carson (57-229): Bleuss 29-113, Kotter 23-105, Handley 1-9, Brooks 3-2, Pincock 1-0, Carter 1-0.
Elko: Rhoden 4-9-0-33. Carson: Bleuss 2-9-1-12.
Elko: Zander 3-27, Hughey 1-6. Carson: Handley 1-10, Brooks 1-2.