Carson playoff bound after emotional win
Appeal Sports Writer
It may be Nevada Day coming up, but the Carson Senators and Reno Huskies were left with two different holiday feelings after Thursday’s game at Carson High School.
It felt like Christmas for the Senators, who took a 32-22 upset victory over the Huskies to earn a berth in next week’s Northern 4A Regional playoffs.
For the Huskies, several of whom were openly weeping after the loss, it felt like Halloween night.
“Oh, I love it. I want to cry,” said junior wide receiver/free safety Will Holbert, whose 35-yard interception return for a touchdown made it 32-14 and further cemented the win. “We’ve never been close to the playoffs since I came here. Now we’re there. I can’t believe it.
“I saw (the ball) the whole way. The quarterback (Reno’s Jon Dankworth) threw it right at me. All I had to do was get in the end zone.”
Holbert’s play came on the heels of a time-comsuming, 15-play, 99-yard drive by the Senators, whose defense had just stopped the Huskies’ fourth-down attempt on the 2-yard line, while protecting a 19-14 lead.
The monumental drive was keyed by running back Travis Lamborn’s 50-yard burst on a third-and-11 from the Senators’ own 1-yard line.
“I looked and I saw eight in the box,” said Lamborn, who finished with 145 yards on 30 attempts and scored his second touchdown of the game 11 plays later for a 25-14 lead. “They thought we’d be passing and held their linebackers back. I have to give it to our line. They crushed them. Nobody came within an inch of me.
“I’m in the playoffs for the first time. I’m excited. I’m jacked. We get to play another game.”
Senior wide receiver Richie Norgrove, who finished with two receptions for 29 yards, was just as stoked as Lamborn.
“I can’t explain what it feels like,” Norgrove said. “It feels like I’m in a dream. I’ve always wanted to go to the playoffs. We stuck it out this week. I can’t believe it. Coach (Shane Quilling) said we had to play our best game. If we played like this all year, we’d be league champs.”
Quilling said he worked on his team’s psyche all week.
“We talked all week about how you gotta believe it can happen first,” Quilling said. “We asked them, ‘How determined are you to get it done?'”
Carson’s will to win was made apparent after it fell behind, 7-0, when Reno running back Kevin Kahan scooted in from 28 yards with 6 minutes, 55 seconds to go in the first quarter.
After being held to a three-and-out, Carson got a huge lift when junior Todd Banko lit up Peter Roehpke, forcing a fumble on the punt return.
Although the Senators recovered the ball, it lost the ball two plays later after Hammond fumbled, even though he looked to be down first.
But 10 plays later, senior defensive back/wide receiver Ryan Eichenberger set the tone for the rest of the game when he picked off a Dankworth pass and returned it 79 yards for the score and a 7-7 tie, with 21 seconds to go in the first quarter.
“I saw the quarterback and the guy tipped it,” Eichenberger said. “I came up, caught it and started running. I hurt my back this week, I’ve got a cracked rib, I’ve had mono all year, I hurt my groin. I haven’t been healthy all year.
“We’ve been working so hard for this. Nobody deserves this more than we do.”
Hammond, who went 4-of-7 for 58 yards through the air, scored on a 2-yarder to give Carson a 13-7 lead at 11:30 of the second quarter. Lamborn ran in his first score from 2 yards out to extend the lead to 19-7 with 4:52 to go before the half.
“It was a dream come true,” Hammond said. “They actually shut down our passing game. We decided to run and we ran all over them.”
Quilling said the win was the culmination of a body of work that began long before this season began.
“There’s been a lot of hard, hard work since last spring and through the summer,” Quilling said. “To hold that team that averaged 400 yards a game to (307 total yards) and 86 passing…three interceptions – our defense played out of their minds. Our offense wasn’t at their best, but they got it done when they had to. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids.
“The kids, the coaches did a great job. (Defensive coordinator Billy) McHenry came up with some great defensive schemes, (quarterbacks) Coach (Blair) Roman was up in the booth and came up with some big plays at the right time.”
With the win, Carson (5-5 overall, 4-3 in the Sierra League) moves on to face High Desert League champion Reed. 9-1, in the first round of the Northern 4A Regional playoffs at Reed High School.
It is Carson’s first playoff appearance since 2002.
“All week we’ve been talking how we’ve had 55 practices,” Quilling said as his players yelled and screamed and chanted, “Playoffs, playoffs” behind him “Now it’s 56 come Monday. Fifty-six was our thing – it was 56, 56. I’m speechless.”