Muckers come up just short against Smith Valley
BY MIKE HOUSER
Appeal Sports Writer
VIRGINIA CITY ” The Virginia City Muckers gave the Smith Valley Bulldogs everything they had on Saturday, but fell just short of forcing overtime when sophomore quarterback Zach Shell was stopped only 6 inches short of the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt.
Shell scored on 3-yard run with 48 seconds remaining in the game to draw the Muckers to within 26-24 but the Bulldogs hung on just enough for the victory at Virginia City High School and stayed in Northern 1A playoff contention.
There are nine teams in the Northern 1A and the top four will go to the postseason. Smith Valley moved to 2-3 in league (3-3) overall, while the Muckers likely fell out of the playoff hunt as they sank to 1-4 overall and in league.
The Muckers failed on an onside kick attempt and Smith Valley took two knees to run out the clock.
“It was a great game. It was a game of inches,” Muckers coach Ron Presley said. “I thought we had it for the two-point conversion. The officials said no. It would’ve been overtime. But I have no regrets. That’s the No. 1 running back in the (Northern) 1A (Smith Valley’s Tony Castaneda). We held him pretty well.”
Castaneda entered Saturday’s game averaging 160 yards per game and 9.70 yards per carry. He had 640 yards on 66 carries before adding 145 more on 29 attempts against the resilient Muckers, but added three receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s our go-to guy,” said first-year Smith Valley coach Scott Hemsath of Castaneda. “He’s a great cutback runner. He stays low and is quick off the ball. He’s a great leader. He works hard every practice and it shows on the field.”
The Bulldogs went up 6-0 when quarterback Jordan Fletcher connected with Castaneda for a 22-yard score at the 6:09 mark of the first quarter. The Muckers subsequently stopped Castaneda’s two-point conversion.
Although being held without a single offensive play in the opening quarter, Virginia City still only trailed 12-6 going into the second frame, thanks to junior Colt Dotson.
After Castaneda’s first score, Dotson had trouble scraping the following kickoff off the ground, but after getting a grip on the pigskin, he took it 80 yards for the score to tie it at 6-all (Virginia City’s run failed).
Taking advantage of Castaneda’s 12 first-quarter carries for 62 yards, Fletcher ran it in from the 1 and after the Muckers again stopped Castaneda’s two-point conversion, the Bulldogs led 12-6.
“The kids played well. Our defense stepped up and played big today,” Presley said. “(The Bulldogs’) drives were long and tiring, but our kids kept hitting.”
And the Muckers’ offense kept striking back.
After a long drive, junior Luis Alfonzo fell on a Dotson fumble on a fourth-and-5 and Virginia City ended up with a nine-yard gain to the Bulldogs’ 4. Three plays later, Shell took it in from the 2, but even though the conversion failed, the game was knotted 12-12 with 8:00 to go in the half.
The Bulldogs took the lead for good when Fletcher hit Castaneda for a short pass and the tireless running back broke through four defenders and took it 70 yards for the touchdown with 5:11 remaining in the first half.
This time Fletcher converted on a run and Smith Valley took a 20-12 lead into the locker room.
Dotson, who led the Muckers with 76 yards on 11 carries, added a 22-yard reception from Shell to his totals and made it 20-18 with 2:54 remaining in the third quarter.
Smith Valley running back Dustin Peterson added 45 yards on six carries and scored on a 26-yard run to give the Bulldogs a 26-18 lead with 3:09 left in the game.
That led to Shell’s up-the-gut 3-yarder to set up the drama.
“Our offensive line called that,” Presley said of Shell’s charge up the middle. “Everyone else wanted to go outside. (The line) wanted wedge. We called timeout and they told me, ‘We’ll get it done, Coach.’ They did.”
Smith Valley is now hoping to run the table in its last three games against Pyramid Lake, Coleville and Eureka.
“This was an ugly game, but it’s good to get a win.” Hemsath said. “It shows we’ve improved. The wind didn’t help. We had to keep it on the ground. Dustin came through and the guys did well.
“We had critical errors on penalties that set us back. That can’t happen. Still, it was good to get out of here with a win. Our guys have made great improvement ” they make me proud every week.”
Presley echoed Hemsath’s sentiments.
“Our kids competed today,” Presley said of his second-year team. “That’s what it’s all about. We have three seniors who are really sophomores in football language. I have no complaints. Every week they’re getting better. That’s all you can ask for.”
Virginia City travels to Hawthorne on Friday. The game begins at 7:30 p.m. The Muckers will close their season with a road game at Owyhee, a home game against Coleville on Oct. 25 and a final away contest with McDermitt.