OAKLAND, Calif. — After a midseason injury that hampered Fallon’s Josh Mauga, the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker has been on fire for the past four games.
Mauga recorded two interceptions, one against future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in November and the second on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr. While Mauga will long remember his first interception of the season against Manning, he will also savor Sunday’s pick that he ran back for 66 yards, falling short of the goal line for the score … ecstatic but out of breath.
“The guys were trying to make a play, but I happened to be at there at the right spot, and the ball fell into my hand,” Mauga said after the game. “In my mind I was going to get as close to the goal line so we could score. I was hoping to score, but I ran out of gas.”
The interception changed the game’s momentum for Kansas City. Trailing 20-14 in the fourth quarter to their storied rivals, the Chiefs had their backs to the wall as Oakland drove toward the end zone. Carr, on a second and 10 down, looked down field to his receivers and unleashed a pass right into Mauga’s hands.
“Our D-line did a great job getting some pressure,” Mauga said.
Mauga, who played his collegiate ball at the University of Nevada, said the game against the Raiders was going to be tough not only because Oakland has been a longtime rival but also because the “Silver and Black” plays in the same division.
The Chiefs dominated the fourth quarter to snare a 34-20 win.
Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid laughed about Mauga’s interception in his postgame interview.
“I told him he probably hadn’t run that far since high school,” Reid said. “Those legs got heavy there about the last 5 yards, but he did well.”
Cornerback Sean Smith saw Mauga slowing down near the goal line.
“Oh my, his back got so tight at about the 15-yard line,” Smith said. “I don’t even think he saw the other guy coming. But that was definitely a big play — he gave it his all but his gas ran out.”
Mauga, though, said his main intent was to hang on to the ball and not fumble. The Chiefs also had two more interceptions in the final quarter.
With the win, Kansas City swept the AFC West Division on the road for the first time in 20 years.
After establishing himself with the Chiefs during the 2014 season by playing in all 16 games and having an injury-free year, Magua was sidelined for two games this season and hobbled in several more with an Achilles heel injury and pulled groin.
“Our trainers here are great to get us healthy and back on the field,” Mauga said. “I have been feeling good the last few weeks.”
Since his return to the gridiron, Mauga has been on fire beginning with his outstanding defensive play at Denver and then following up with seven tackles at San Diego, including his first quarterback sack. He recorded nine solo tackles against Buffalo, and three tackles against Oakland. In 2014, Mauga led the Chiefs with 103 tackles, and this year he has 39 through 10 games.
Derrick Johnson, an 11-year veteran of the NFL who also plays inside linebacker, said he and Mauga complement each other.
“Josh is a better now in his league and a very smart player,” said Johnson, who played for Texas. “Being inside linebackers, we talk a lot and work well together. He is a guy who takes what I say seriously. He listens well and plays his butt off. He’s been making plays since he got here, and his interception was great right place at right time.”
As Mauga struggled so did the Chiefs, but Kansas City has rolled for six consecutive wins and leads the playoff teams with a 7-5 record.
Mauga’s father in law, Reto Gross of Fallon, said Mauga has been making the big plays since the Denver game. Gross said the interception against Carr, however, was a game changer.
“That pick Josh got was monumental,” Gross said, adding the defense changed the game’s outcome in the final quarter.
Gross also said the weekend of the San Diego game was exciting for Mauga because of the win against the Chargers and for Fallon winning a state football championship.
Life couldn’t be sweeter for Mauga after that weekend.
“I kept up with them, “Mauga said of Fallon’s season and the state title game on Nov. 19. “My mom would text me quarter by quarter and how TJ (Josh’s younger brother) was doing. When we landed in San Diego, I scrolled down and it looked like a pretty good game.”
Mauga mused to himself: “My little big brother got himself a state championship.”
Mauga, who graduated from Churchill County High School in 2005, said the community did an extraordinary job backing the team, and the coaches were on top of their game.
“Coach (Brooke) Hill and Lalo (Otuafi) went through a lot,” Mauga said of his former coaches, “but I am happy for both of them to get that championship.”