RENO — The Carson Senators have lost to Reed five times since 2008.
None, however, were more disappointing than Saturday’s 28-25 loss to the Raiders in the NIAA Division I regional title game at DJ Benardis Field.
It was a great effort, but Carson, 9-3, literally let one get away, and CHS coach Blair Roman knows that all too well.
“Yeah, this probably hurts more than the other ones,” Roman said after delivering his usual post-game talk to his team. “We had plenty of opportunities. We just didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we had at various times.
“The first quarter and a half we had a tough time stopping the run. We made a couple of nice adjustments and gave up seven points in the second half. I told my coaches we gave up 47 points last year, and when you do that you don’t deserve to win. We gave up 28 today and we deserved to win. Credit goes to Reed. They made plays when they needed to.”
And, because of that, the Raiders won their fourth straight regional title and fifth in six years.
“This is honest to God from the heart, I don’t know how to feel right now,” Reed coach Ernie Howren said. “You don’t think about. If you do, it’s just another game. It has all been focused on beating Carson. I hadn’t really thought ‘OK, well here comes No. 4.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of my kids. To come down with another goal line stand like this at the end of the game ...they earned that.”
Carson outgained Northern Nevada’s top offense by a wide margin, 369-196. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough, mainly because of the aforementioned goal line stands that came on Carson’s first drive of the game and its last, and Eddie Duarte’s missed 21-yard field goal that could have sent the game into overtime late in the fourth quarter. The Senators came up empty on each of those red-zone drives, and in a 3-point loss that’s huge.
Before Reed’s first goalline stand, Porter Hansen took the opening kick-off 85 yards for a score, and Carson found itself in a quick hole before fans could get comfortable.
“I need to look at film,” said Vic Castro, Carson’s special teams coach. “They do a good job of slow playing returns. I’m pretty sure we were overanxious.”
Carson bounced back with a great drive, but came up empty, and that was a precursor of what was to come.
Junior QB Joe Nelson drove the Senators from their own 22 all the way down to Reed’s 6-yard line on the ensuing drive. He completed an 11-yard pass to Connor Pradere on the first play, and then Colby Brown gained 22 yards to the Reed 45.
After a 15-yard penalty for spearing and Brown’s 4-yard run on a third-and-2 play, the Senators had the ball at the 6. The rest of the drive, if you’re a Carson fan, was tough to swallow. Asa Carter gained four yards to the 2 and Brown got it down to the 1. After Fajayan was stopped for no gain on third down, Roman eschewed the field goal, and Brown was stopped for no gain.
“The first drive was a key to the game,” Roman said. “Credit Reed. They stepped up and made the play when they needed it.”
Reed quickly made it 14-0, driving 59 yards on six plays. Jorden Carter capped the drive with a 4-yard run, the first of his three scores. Tre Bussey gashed the Senators for gains of 16 and 20 yards. Carter had a 17-yarder right before his scoring run.
Carson responded with a 78-yard scoring drive that was helped by a 52-yard pass play to Carter and a Reed holding penalty on a third-and-12 play which negated an interception by Bryce Bryant. The penalty gave Carson a third-and-2 at the Reed 17.
After an incomplete pass by Nelson, Roman called a wraparound draw, and Seamus Burns roared into the end zone. Duarte added the PAT.
“They were rotating their coverage to answer our motion, and if our runner can get through the line there is nobody there to stop him,” Roman said.
The Raiders had another short field to work with on their next possession when Hansen returned the short kick-off to midfield.
Reed’s Matt Denn completed a 17-yard pass to Alex Hernandez down to the Carson 28. The drive appeared to be stopped, but on a fourth-and-5 play, Carter gained six for a first down to the 17. Carter scored on the next play to make it 21-7.
The defense settled down, holding the Raiders scoreless on their last two possessions of the half.
Meanwhile, Carson chalked up 10 unanswered points, including an impressive 73-yard drive in which it never faced a third-down play. Fajayan scored the first of his two TDs, this one on a 7-yard run. On its next possession, Carson drove to Reed’s 12, but again the inability to run against Reed’s physical front forced Carson to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Duarte to go into the half trailing just 21-17.
What momentum Carson had established ended on Reed’s first drive of the second half, as Logan Marcantonio returned a punt all the way down to Carson’s 17, setting up Carter’s 1-yard run and a 28-17 lead with 6:56 left in the third.
Carson had another opportunity in the third. Carter intercepted a pass at the Reed 42. The great field position was wasted as three plays netted zero yards. On fourth down, Carson tried a fake punt, and Duarte’s pass just eluded Nolan Shine’s reach.
The Carson defense held Reed again, and the Senators drove 67 yards on a drive capped by Nelson’s 16-yard pass to Fajayan. The 2-point conversion pass to Ian Schulz trimmed Reed’s lead to 28-25 with 6:59 left.
Reed tried to pass on first down, but Carter stepped in front of the receiver and came down with his second interception of the game at the Carson 40.
“I was surprised they tried to pass,” Carter said. “I expected them to run, but we have to be ready for anything. We were in a man-to-man, and I just came underneath.”
Carson’s ensuing drive appeared to be over, but Nelson’s 22-yard pass to Brown gave the Senators a first down at the Reed 9. The ball was thrown into the wind and took forever to come down into Brown’s hands. Carson got the ball down to the 3, and then Fajayan, trying to get around the left side was thrown for a yard loss, leaving the ball on the left hashmark for Duarte’s 21-yard attempt which missed wide left.
“We weren’t able to run inside,” Roman said, explaining why he called a sweep. “I wasn’t thinking about the field goal, I was thinking TD.”