Carson football keeps playoff hopes alive
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – With the first-place Douglas Tigers having beaten the Reno Huskies, 24-21, the night before, the Carson Senators knew all they had to do to set up a showdown with fourth-place Reno for a playoff berth was get by the winless Wooster Colts on Saturday.
But when Carson quarterback Mitch Hammond went down in the second quarter and had to leave the game with his team trailing, 7-0, to a stubborn Colts team, the Senators’ playoff hopes had suddenly taken a turn for the worse at Wooster High School.
“Somebody missed his assignment and my helmet got crushed on top of my nose,” said Hammond, who missed the remainder of the series with a headache and a bloody nose. “I didn’t know where I was for about 30 seconds.”
In came senior Ryan Eichenberger, who completed a pair of passes to keep the drive alive and six plays after Hammond went down, running back Travis Lamborn scooted in from four yards out to tie the game, 7-7, with 7 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the first half.
Eichenberger kept his cool, Hammond returned, Carson’s defense recorded six sacks and added two interceptions and the Senators turned it on for a 36-22 win over the Colts.
Fifth-place Carson improved to 4-5 overall, 3-3 in the Sierra League, and if it can defeat Reno at Carson High School on Thursday, it will make the Northern 4A Regional playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Reno is 6-2 overall and 4-2 in league play, but a loss to Carson would leave the two teams tied for fourth and the first tiebreaker goes to the team that wins a head-to-head meeting.
Hammond’s headache didn’t come courtesy of a head-to-head meeting, but he did have to clear his head before coming back into the game.
“He got rocked good,” Quilling said of Hammond. “Mitch didn’t have to prove to me this year how tough he was. He did that the last two games of last year (when he started as a sophomore) and took a beating.”
Hammond proved his heart anyway and ended up going an efficient 7-of-9 for 123 yards and throwing a 76-yard touchdown to Richie Norgrove and a 24-yarder to Eichenberger for a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.
Hammond also picked up 97 yards on eight carries and faked the Colts out of their cleats with a fake to Lamborn before ripping up the left sideline for a 93-yard touchdown, giving the Senators a 29-7 lead with 4:42 to go in the third quarter.
“I thought I was going to fall,” Hammond said of the run. “I stepped into a hole on the way to the end zone.”
Fortunately for Hammond, he kept his balance and got some help from the omnipresent Eichenberger.
“Eichenberger had a great block to get Mitch into the end zone,” Quilling said. “But the best thing about the play was the read. We’d run the outside veer about five times. I thought Lamborn had the ball. It wasn’t until Mitch was on the 15 or 20 that I realized he had the ball. It was a great read by Mitch to set up the outside veer.”
Hammond pitched some credit to Eichenberger for keeping Carson going in his absence.
“He did good,” Hammond said. “He’s a good quarterback. He’s an all-around good player.”
The Colts fell to 0-9 overall and 0-6 in league play, but still had some kick left. Offensive lineman Jon Bailey capped off a 10-play drive to put Wooster up, 7-0, at 8:09 of the first quarter.
But the Colts couldn’t keep either Hammond or Lamborn down. Although he had a pair of fumbles, Lamborn more than atoned – on offense and defense. Lamborn finished with 161 yards on 19 carries, including an 8-yard run to make it 36-14 at 9:40 of the fourth quarter. He also recorded a sack in the second quarter and added a fourth-quarter interception.
“We needed to a win today with Douglas taking care of business (Friday) night,” Quilling said. “Obviously we have to play better (against Reno on Thursday) than we did today. We had a couple of big fumbles, so we couldn’t put them away earlier.
“We weren’t able to finish. Like we told the kids all week, it’s about finishing every play, every drive, every quarter, every half. But, hey, these kids played hard. We did a lot of good things offensively. We did everything we wanted to. Everybody played, which is a big plus.”
Eichenberger went 2-for-2 for 19 yards in his brief appearance at the helm for the Senators and added three receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown. Norgrove finished with three catches for 95 yards and a score.
When a snap sailed over the head of Wooster punter Narcisco Esparza, Johnny Hazeltine and Aaron Jolcover pounced on Esparza in the end zone for a safety and a 23-7 halftime lead.
Hazeltine, a senior, added a pair of first-half sacks. Jolcover, a junior, also contributed a sack in the second quarter.
Carson outgained the Colts offensively, 403-194, and outrushed them, 261-102.
Robbie Bozin intercepted Colts quarterback Scott Greene in the second quarter and Jamie Greene and Matt Kleinfieldt each recorded a sack in the Carson victory.
“Our defense came hard,” Quilling said. “We screwed up our coverage on a fourth down and it set up an easy touchdown. After that, we played. Their last two touchdowns came when our younger kids played, so that’s all right.”
Wooster cut Carson’s lead to 29-14 on a 36-yard run by A.J. Garcia late in the third quarter and to 36-22 on an 8-yard hookup between Greene and Matt Parker, followed by a 2-point conversion.
Parker finished with five receptions for 84 yards and one score, while Greene went 5-of-10 for 97 yards and a touchdown. Wooster also recorded four sacks.
With Wooster out of the way, Carson can now focus on Reno.
“Reno might have the best offense with the most weapons in the North,” Quilling said. “Obviously, Reed is a powerful team, but Reno has (quarterback Jon) Dankworth and (tight end Dan) Knapp. Those two kids are dangerous. And Reno has a power running game. They have a physical offensive and defensive line.
“They don’t have a lot of weaknesses. They’ve been playing 50 the entire game. That allows us to do other things. It takes away our middle veer, so it’s going to be a challenge.”
So that leaves Carson only one thing to do – start the postseason early.
“We have to play our best game of the entire year,” Quilling said. “It’s a playoff game. The playoffs start Thursday. I’m glad the kids stepped it up here.”