SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - If anyone thought Carson High was safe with its 21-0 lead at the end of one quarter on Saturday, they didn't take into account what kind of talent South Tahoe quarterback Mike Van Gorden is.
Van Gorden caught fire in the second quarter and the rest of the Vikings followed right along on their way to a 42-41 homecoming victory against Carson on an ideal Indian Summer afternoon. When all the numbers were all in, Van Gorden was 22-for-42 in the passing department, good for 355 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior threw for 175 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter to jump start the comeback.
"With Mikey, you always have a chance," South Tahoe co-coach Todd McIntyre said. "I think he played one of the best games I've ever seen a kid play here. He just kept coming up with key passes and key runs when we needed them."
The Vikings, who only suited up 21 players for the game, pulled to within 28-21 at halftime then scored two unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter, capped by Buck Pershing's two-yard touchdown run and Matt Bobman's PAT kick with 4:51 left to play.
As exhilarating as the win was for the Vikings (1-3 in Sierra League, 2-4 overall) it was heart breaking for the Senators (1-2, 2-5) and their 26 players after leading virtually all the way and posting their best offensive numbers of the season.
"It was a great high school football game," Carson coach Shane Quilling said. "Our kids did a helluva a job. I'm not disappointed in the effort they gave, but I am disappointed in the loss."
The Senators missed an opportunity to move into a tie for second-place in the league despite their season-high 41 points and 383 yards in total offense. They had 283 yards in total offense in the first half, including 209 yards on six-for-eight passing by quarterback Kyle Bacon.
"We missed an extra point and didn't make some plays when we needed to - and they did," Quilling said.
A pivotal point in the game came late in the third quarter after Seth Carter intercepted a Van Gorden pass and returned the ball 35 yards to the South Tahoe 19. Six plays later, Alex Martinez bolted into the end zone from two yards out for a touchdown that put Carson on top 41-28 with 35 seconds remaining in the period. Misfortune struck for the Senators, however, when the PAT snap sailed over the head of kick Matt Mitchell, who fell on the ball to end the play.
Back in the first quarter, it was hard to imagine that a missed extra point would matter after the Senators scored touchdowns on three successive possessions.
First, Bryan Maffei electrified the crowd when he took a screen pass from Bacon and picked his way through a series of blocks on a 61-yard touchdown play. The Senators capitalized on another big pass play on their next possession when Scott Witter rambled 79 yards on a 3-and-14 pass to the 10. One play later, Maffei scored on a 10-yard burst up the middle.
Carson's defense got in on the act two minutes later when sophomore linebacker Brandon Lamborn recovered a fumble at the South Tahoe 45. Carter caught a 28-yard pass to the 19, then three plays later, Witter made an over-the-shoulder catch on an 18-yard scoring pass from Bacon to make it 21-0 with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Vikings still weren't ready to call it a day.
"I was thinking there was plenty of time; we were going to come back," Van Gorden said. "We figured we needed to give it everything we've got because there was nothing to lose at that point."
It all started on a third-and-seven play from the 35 when Van Gorden completed a pass under heavy pressure to Dennis Merritt for a 22-yard gain. Three plays later Merritt caught a 37-yard scoring pass to make it 21-7.
"What a dart," Quilling said after watching Van Gorden's pass from the sideline.
"The kid's a stud," the coach added after the game. "He's the best quarterback in the North."
Carson answered with an 11-play, 65-yard drive of its own. Bacon capped the drive when he followed blocks from Eric Walther and Stephen Waicul on a two-yard touchdown run to make it 28-7.
But South Tahoe seized the momentum right back, thanks to another clutch play. Faced with a fourth-and-10 situation from the Carson 40, Spencer Dean caught a 14-yard pass for the first down.
"We were down 28-7, it was fourth down, and we knew we had to do something," Van Gorden said. "That play definitely turned it around. And those drives right before the half were big; after that we knew we could move the ball on them."
One play later, tight end Bryan Finkel got open over the middle and caught a 26-yard touchdown pass.
South Tahoe got the ball right back when Bobman's onside kick was recovered by Dean at the Carson 44. The Vikings mounted a 10-play scoring drive, even though Carson's defense got sacks from Walther and Maffei, but they were aided by a pass interference call in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play. Three plays later Finkel caught a nine-yard scoring pass over the middle, making it 28-21 with 1:41 left before halftime.
Carson mounted another drive - aided by Matt Moore's diving 22-yard reception at the South Tahoe 30 - but a 49-yard field goal attempt by Mitchell missed wide right by a matter of inches.
The Senators regained the momentum when Lamborn stripped the ball away and then recovered an onside kick to start the second half. They mounted an 11-play, 50-yard drive that culminated with Bacon's two-yard sneak for a touchdown.
South Tahoe came right back when Van Gorden converted a fourth-and-six situation into a 44-yard touchdown strike to Merritt on a slant over the middle, cutting Carson's lead to 35-28.
Van Gorden's fifth touchdown pass came on a 14-yard pass to Eric Domingo on a third-and-nine play.
The Senators had two chances to come back after they fell behind by one point. First, they drove to the South Tahoe 34 before a fourth-down pass off a fake reverse from Moore to Witter was batted away by Domingo at the goal line. The Senators got the ball back for one last shot with 1:49 remaining, but Witter was knocked down on his route over the middle, Bacon's throw was deflected and Kyle Jones came up with the game-clinching interception.
Bacon finished with 217 yards passing (nine-for-15) and 59 yards rushing. Witter caught three passes for 117 yards and Maffei rushed for 68 yards on 21 carries.
Merritt caught eight passes for 142 yards, Finkel had five catches for 92 yards and Dean five catches for 76 yards to lead South Tahoe's receivers. Pershing, converted to running back from tight end due to a hip injury sustained by Martin Taylor, rushed for 28 yards on 10 carries.
"It was a great game," McIntyre said. "The last four or five games have been tough, especially with the small numbers we have on this team, so this was a huge win for our team and a huge win for our program."
Carson held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback to win 32-30. South Tahoe scored 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but the Senators secured their win after John Andrews recovered an onside kick attempt in the final minute.
The Senators reached the end zone on both of their first-half possessions as Kyle Banko scored on a 12-yard run at the end of a six-minute drive and then scored on a four yard run. Banko ran for the PAT after the second TD - two points that stood as the difference at the end of the game - to give the Senators a 14-6 halftime lead. Quarterback Ryan Eichenberger scored on 32- and 22-yard runs and Robert Bagley scored on a three-yard run as Carson extended its lead to 32-6 at the end of three quarters.
Peter Bernhard played a solid game at defensive tackle, along with Adam Solinger, David Lytle and Eichenberger at the linebacker positions, according to coach Jim Bean.
Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call (775) 881-1220.