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Wave’s furious comeback falls short

Anthony Gentile
Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — On the first play of the fourth quarter Friday, the South Tahoe football team took a commanding 32-point lead over Fallon. For the next 12 minutes, the Vikings had to hold on as the Greenwave mounted a furious comeback.

In the end, South Tahoe delivered a 38-30 victory over defending state champion Fallon in a 3A Northern League contest at Viking Stadium. The victory wasn’t secure until senior Jacob Bernal recovered an onside kick attempt with 20 seconds to play, allowing the Vikings to run out the clock.

“We got too excited — we thought the game was already over,” Vikings senior Robert Cage said. “We just had to keep playing as a team and make sure everyone’s heads were up.”

After a scoreless first quarter, South Tahoe (3-1 3A Northern) got on the board through the air. The Vikings found the end zone twice with 22-yard passes from junior Peyton Galli to senior Robert Cage — the second came with 2:52 left in the half and put the hosts up 15-0.

“They were more physical, they were ready to play, and we were just kind of on our heels,” Fallon coach Brooke Hill said. “They executed and they were more physical up front.”

South Tahoe took that 15-point lead into the break, and added to it in the third quarter. The Vikings turned the opening drive of the second half into points on a 22-yard field goal from senior Noah Jackson that made it 18-0

Cage intercepted Fallon’s Christian Nemeth on the next possession — the Vikings’ third pick of the game. Five plays after the turnover, Jackson ran for a 13-yard score that put South Tahoe ahead 25-0 with 4:52 left in the third quarter.

“It was nice to see us be so tough. We controlled the line of scrimmage for three and a half quarters,” Vikings coach Louis Franklin said. “I was shocked when we got that big of a lead, because that’s a good team.”

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Bernal bullied his way into the end zone from 2 yards out to give South Tahoe a 32-0 lead. A lopsided victory appeared imminent for the Vikings at that point, but Fallon (2-2) had other plans.

“We put in a quarterback switch and that inspired us a little bit,” Hill said. “The kids played hard in the fourth quarter.”

Hill said South Tahoe outplayed Fallon for three quarters.

“They need to be commended, because they kicked our tail for three quarters,” he said.

The Greenwave scored four touchdowns in the last 10:54 orchestrated by backup quarterback Conner Nelson. South Tahoe answered Fallon’s first score of the game with a Bernal 44-yard touchdown that made it 38-8 with 9:45 to play, then had to hang on.

Fallon scored on the next play from scrimmage, a 69-yard touchdown run from Cade Vercellotti — its first of three unanswered touchdowns to end the game. That and a two-point conversion made the score 38-16 with 9:25 to play, and the Greenwave quickly got the ball back.

South Tahoe fumbled near midfield on the next play from scrimmage, and Fallon continued its comeback. The visitors drove 46 yards in 10 plays, eventually scoring when Nelson scrambled and found Sean McCormick for a 5-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal — after a failed two-point try, the Vikings’ lead was cut to 38-22 with 5:38 left.

“That was the first time that I started to worry,” Franklin said. “This is a young team not used to winning — we just had to stay positive and keep going.”

South Tahoe ran four minutes off the clock on the next possession before giving the ball back to Fallon on downs at its 25-yard line. The Greenwave quickly drove down the field, and scored with 22 seconds left on a double reverse pass from Nelson to Brock Uptain.

Vercellotti then ran in the two-point conversion to make the score 38-30. Fallon had pulled within a possession, but Bernal came down with the ensuing onside kick to end the comeback — and deliver victory for the Vikings.

“He’s gassed,” Franklin said of Bernal, who powered South Tahoe’s rushing attack and played inside linebacker. “He gave us everything he had — and had a great game.”

South Tahoe controlled the line of scrimmage Friday night, leading to a season-high 252 yards rushing. Bernal finished with 172 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, including 139 yards in the second half.

“That was our best rushing performance of the year when we needed it most,” Franklin said. “Salute to the trench mob — those guys were getting nasty inside.”

Galli finished 6-of-12 passing for 108 yards and two touchdowns in his second straight start at quarterback for injured senior Tommy Cefalu. Jackson took 18 direct snaps as part of a wildcat package, and totaled 69 yards on 15 touches between quarterback, running back and receiver.

The loss, though, was not considred to be a turning point to the season, though, for the Wave.

“It’s definitely not going to hurt us, and it’s something we can build off of. But we have a lot to learn still,” Hill added.

Fallon finished with 333 yards of offense after being held to 109 through the first three quarters. Vercellotti rushed for a game-high 195 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries while Nelson accounted for 100 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone after taking over at quarterback.

“We got some momentum going, and I liked the way my guys played in the last quarter,” Hill said. “But we can’t have those first three quarters.”