Dayton picks up first league win, 35-29 over South Tahoe |

Dayton picks up first league win, 35-29 over South Tahoe

Jeremy Evans

TAHOE CITY — Dayton was about to win another Northern 3A football game and Dust Devil coach Rick Walker started to think about all the other times his team has lost a close game.

“I was trying not to think about that, I was trying to avoid those thoughts as long as I could,” Walker said. “I didn’t know if it was going to happen. I really didn’t. I think we did everything we could to not have won.”

But so did North Tahoe as Dayton won a wacky game between the two teams, 34-29 on Saturday afternoon at North Tahoe High School.

It was the Dust Devils first win since their 21-0 shutout against 2A Incline on Aug. 30. More importantly, though, it was their first league win. Dayton (2-4 overall, 1-4 league) almost pulled out a win in its league opener against Lowry, then played Spring Creek and Truckee tough before falling to Fernley 18-7 last Friday.

For Justin Cross, who rushed for 164 yards on 22 carries against the Lakers, he’s wondering what took so long.

“We’re a good team and I think we should have pulled it out in the first few games,” said Cross, who also had two 1-yard touchdown runs. “It feels awesome. It’s great. We just got to come together a little more.”

Early in the game, Dayton didn’t have an answer for North Tahoe’s Kyle Williams, who rushed for 113 yards in the first half. Williams opened the scoring in the first quarter with his 2-yard TD run, then quarterback Kevin Freeman punched in a pair of 1-yard TD runs as the Lakers led 21-13 at halftime.

Despite giving up being out gained in the first half, the Dust Devils definitely had the best touchdown. On 3rd and 13 on the North Tahoe 41, Dayton quarterback Jake Deen dodged a few defenders, then heaved a pass from near midfield to a diving Dylan Morris in the end zone who tipped the ball in the air, then landed on his back, only to see the ball drop on his chest for the touchdown.

A fluid, error free first half gave way to a sloppy second half as the two teams combined for four turnovers. Neither team scored in the third quarter, but it wasn’t for lack of chances. On the first possession of the third quarter, the Lakers (2-3, 1-3) punted from their own 48 and Morris mistakenly tried to field a bouncing ball on his own 10. North Tahoe recovered and after two plays for minus-2 yards, Freeman’s pass on third down was intercepted by Gabe Sumsion. Four plays later, Deen took a soft count and ran up the middle for 42 yards and had nothing but the end zone in front of him when the ball slipped out his hand and the Lakers then recovered.

“Other than last week against Fernley, it’s been that way for us,” Walker said. “But we’ve always come back and been pretty resilient when things are down. I’m so happy for them that they finally came through on the top this time. We made a defensive stand when we had to.”

On fourth down at the start of the fourth quarter, Dayton recovered a bad snap by North Tahoe in the end zone for the safety. The Lakers still led 21-13 at that point but Stephen Novello returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards for the touchdown to give the Dust Devils their first lead, 22-21.

Now a once dormant offensive game exploded. On the Lakers next possession, Freeman hooked up with Dan Bagan on an unexpected 64-yard pass play that put his team back on top, 29-22 with 10:58 to play in the game. Freeman had only attempted five passes up before the big play to Bagan.

But the Dayton defense wouldn’t allow Williams, who rushed for only 27 yards in the second half, to run down the clock. In a two-minute drive, the Dust Devils went 70 yards on six plays, aided by two North Tahoe penalties, and Deen found Morris in the end zone for an 11-yard TD pass. But North Tahoe blocked the point after attempt and the Dust Devils trailed 29-28 with 4:32 to play.

The Lakers gave the ball right back when Williams fumbled on his own 24. Cross then took over. He carried the ball four times for 17 yards, capped off by his game-winning 1-yard TD run with 57 seconds left to play. Freeman couldn’t counter and Walker could finally breath a sigh of relief.

“I’m so happy. The kids stepped up and did a good job,” Walker said.

Deen, who was piling up amazing numbers since taking over the starting job in early September, only threw for 77 yards. Morris caught three passes for 61 yards for the Dust Devils, who next play Manogue Oct. 11.