Carson, the Northern 4A League’s regular season co-champion, trailed throughout the first half. Additionally, the game was tied with three minutes to go but a late Carson score helped the Senators hold off Spanish Springs for a 28-21 postseason triumph.
“The kids played great,” Spanish Springs coach Scott Hare said. “These were two great teams going at it. I couldn’t be prouder of our kids, especially after the last two weeks. We had a great week of practice. We did everything but get the win.”
The effort from Spanish Springs was a valiant one, considering the Cougars (5-5) had dropped their last four regular season games, including a pair of blowout defeats to end the season.
Trailing 21-14 midway through the fourth, the Cougars caught a break. The Carson punter took off on a fake try but was stopped well short of the first-down marker, setting Spanish Springs up at the Carson 45. Eight plays later, Cougars signal caller Tanner Oates got over the goal line on QB sneak from a yard out and the game was knotted at 21-21 with 3:10 remaining on the game clock.
The fake punt indeed proved costly as it gave the visitors a short field and led to a tying score.
“It was a designed rugby punt to negate a return from them,” Carson coach Blair Roman said. “We didn’t want to do that. We didn’t execute it. Our punter felt some pressure and didn’t feel like he could kick it, so he tried to run it.”
Unfortunately for Spanish Springs, Carson (9-1) wasted no time regaining the lead. On the third play of its ensuing drive, CHS return man and all-league running back candidate Dylan Sawyers got to the corner and bolted 53 yards for a touchdown that pushed the Senators into a 28-21 advantage with 2:44 still left in the postseason affair.
Sawyers finished with 110 yards on 10 carries. He also caught seven passes for 64 yards.
“We did a good job against him with the exception of that last run,” Hare said. “But he’s that good. I’m glad we got to play him. In the playoffs, you want to play against the best.”
Even after falling behind again, the Cougars weren’t done. Spanish Springs returned the next Carson kickoff to its own 47. Then, on the first play of the drive, Oates connected with Sean Shamrock on a 30-yard gain down to the Carson 23. That’s where the drive and season ended for Spanish Springs as a pair of incomplete passes and two runs for no gain saw the Cougars turn the ball over on downs with just over a minute to go in the contest.
“I didn’t know what to expect going in tonight,” Roman said. “After our loss last week, we just had one goal, win or lose, walk off the field with no regrets. In terms of Spanish Springs, we had a tough game up there. They were a seventh seed but we knew they were good.”
Spanish Springs had all the momentum early. The Cougars took possession first and ran nearly eight minutes off the clock thanks to a 15-play, 80-yard drive.
The result was a 6-yard Conrad Tanyi touchdown run on a fourth-and-2 play. It was the second fourth-down conversion of the drive for the Cougars, who did not throw a single pass on the march. When the drive was done, the SSHS gridders had a 7-0 lead with 4:09 to go in the first quarter and Carson had yet to touch the pigskin.
The two teams traded turnovers in a four-play sequence that left Carson with the ball at its own 33. The Senators then drove 52 yards but their drive stalled and ended on a missed 35-yard field goal try.
Spanish Springs capitalized and put together another grinding 80-yard touchdown drive. This time, it was 13 plays, again all runs, resulting in a 4-yard Tanyi touchdown run and leading to a 14-0 Spanish Springs lead with 2:40 to go before halftime.
Tanyi racked up 172 rushing yards on 30 carries to lead the SSHS ground game.
Carson found some offense in the closing minutes of the second quarter. The hosts put together a 58-yard drive that culminated in a Trey Jones to Sawyers score on an 8-yard swing pass that left just 25 seconds in the first half.
Still, Spanish Springs, the Northern 4A’s seventh seed, had a 14-7 halftime lead and had dominated in time possession, holding the football for more than 16 minutes of the 24 in the first and second quarters.
“We wanted to run the ball. That was the game plan,” Hare said. “We wanted to keep Sawyers of the field. He’s explosive. We had to keep Carson off the field and we did a good job of that.”
Roman said he was not surprised to see Spanish Springs attack his defense with the run.
“We’ve been kind of expecting that,” he said. “Our offense is so explosive that I’ve thought a good game plan against us would be to do that. Scott (Hare) had a good game plan.”
Carson got the ball first to start the second half and cashed in. The host Senators put together an 80-yard drive of their own, but it was not a clock eater. It took them just over two minutes and was capped by a 32-yard touchdown scamper by Sawyers. Following the PAT kick, Carson had deadlocked the game at 14-14 with 9:48 showing on the third-quarter clock.
Later in the third, Carson forced a Spanish Springs punt and Sawyers took it to the house, returning the kick 70 yards for a go-ahead Carson touchdown, forging the Senators into a 21-14 lead at the 4:50 mark of the third quarter.
Carson moves on to a Northern 4A semifinal Friday. It will host Reed at 7 p.m.