The Senators did not get a chance to play the other two co-champions on their schedule and they finally got that first shot Friday night in the Northern 4A regionals against No. 3 seed Reed.
Second-seeded Carson proved it belonged in the discussion as one of the North’s top teams by shutting out the Raiders 20-0 to earn a date with McQueen in the regional championship game, the first time Carson has advanced to the title game since 1987.
“It’s great. It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Carson football coach Blair Roman said. “I’m just so, so happy for the kids and our coaches. To shut out Reed like that, it was an unbelievable effort by our defense. They made big plays all night. The kids were just not going to be denied tonight. It was pretty awesome.”
The Senators didn’t have to show much on offense to grab a 14-0 lead after one quarter.
Reed set the hosts up with prime real estate following the second of four first-half three-and-outs as well as a fumble. Carson began its two scoring drives in Raider territory at the 39 and the 30.
The Senators capped their first trek into the end zone when quarterback Trey Jensen rolled out to the right and found receiver Gabriel Pongasi along the sidelines for a diving 13-yard touchdown catch with 5:12 to go in the first quarter.
On Reed’s ensuing possession, David Hibler caught a pass on he first play from scrimmage but had the ball stripped. Carson jumped on the ball and then went 40 yards to make it 14-0 on Dylan Sawyers’ 5-yard end around where he danced to the outside for a touchdown.
That’s how the score remained until halftime even though the Blue and Gold finally caught one break.
With Carson driving toward a third score before the break, the home team reached the Reed 36 in the final minute before halftime. Then running back Connor Beattie mishandled a pitch. Reed’s Donovan Inskip picked the ball off the bounce and ran it all the way back to the Senators’ 33 with 48 seconds left on the clock.
The Raiders proceeded to turn the ball over on downs after accumulating negative yardage on the drive.
Reed controlled play in the second half, but still could not manage to put any points on the board. The Raiders ran three times as many plays on offense as the Senators in the third quarter, 24-8. However, the visitors could get no closer than the Carson 21 in the third quarter.
The RHS gridders’ first possession of the second half started from their own 7 and they surpassed their first-half offensive output of 39 yards in less than two and a half minutes. Reed pushed the ball downfield to the Senators’ 34 before punting the ball away.
Reed got good field position on its next drive, starting at midfield. The first play ended with Reed quarterback Brent Showalter throwing a pass right to Carson’s Colby Blueberg. The senior defensive back also had an interception in the end zone on the second-to-last play of the game when the Raiders drove down to the 3 in the fourth quarter.
“I thought our defense did everything it could to keep us in the game, and offensively we just could not find a way to finish,” Reed football coach Ernie Howren said. “No way am I taking anything away from Carson. Carson’s defense, what a game plan. They played their tails off. Their kids did a great job. But you get to the point where if you’re in the red zone like that, you’ve got to put it in. We just couldn’t finish a drive.”
Carson’s defense came up huge in the second half, forcing three turnovers on downs. It also allowed the offense to put up its final touchdown.
On fourth-and-6 with under five minutes to play, linebacker Logan Peternell sniffed out a middle screen and drilled Reed running back John Covello behind the line of scrimmage.
The Senators took over at their 20, but a holding call pushed the ball back to the 10. Six plays later, Sawyers lowered his shoulder and kept his feet moving as he plowed through the Raider defense for a 60-yard touchdown. Sawyers racked up 158 yards on the ground on just 12 second-half carries for a total of 192 yards rushing on the night.
The Northern 4A championship game is at 7 p.m. Friday night at Damonte Ranch High School.
“McQueen is a great program with a great tradition and they’re going to want another regional championship and a notch on their belt,” Roman said. “We’re going to have to come out with the exact same team effort that we did tonight. If we do that, we’ll be right there.”