The game felt competitive, but a couple mismatches proved the difference as the Railroaders could not slow down South Tahoe’s quarterback John Cefalu or one of his big targets, Kyante Wilson.
“I felt we did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage, but we didn’t have an answer for (Wilson) and (Cefalu),” Sparks football coach Rob Kittrell said. “He’s as good a quarterback as we’ll see this year.”
Already trailing 7-0, Sparks showed that its offense wouldn’t be stuck in quicksand against the Vikings. The Railroaders trekked all the way down inside the South Tahoe red zone, but the drive hit a wall when they reached the 7-yard line of the visiting team.
Sparks was stuck with a fourth-and-3 from the 7 and the home team went for it. Junior running back Hennessey Banks took a pitch left but was stopped after a 2-yard gain, forcing a turnover on downs.
South Tahoe proceeded to take the ball 95 yards on 11 plays, capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Cefalu to Kyle Moreno, a mirror image of the Vikings’ first touchdown that occurred within the first two minutes of the game.
The point after was no good, leaving South Tahoe with a 13-0 lead with 1:21 on the first-quarter clock.
The Railroaders weren’t about to let South Tahoe run away with the game like Sparks’ seven previous opponents.
Sparks started the ensuing drive on its own 35. A 22-yard run by Banks pushed the hosts into South Tahoe territory.
But the Railroaders were faced with another fourth down. The Maroon and Gold only needed a yard, but didn’t have to snap the ball as a Viking jumped across the line of scrimmage.
Sparks took advantage of the new set of downs and a face mask penalty, that tacked on more yardage to a Mario Guadron run, took the ball down to the 2. Two plays later, quarterback Geo Vasquez took a sneak across the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown run. The extra point cut the deficit to 13-7 with 8:35 to go in the first half.
Things got even better for Sparks as the defense forced a three-and-out after the touchdown. However, the Vikings turned the same trick on defense and it was all Blue and Gold for the remainder of the first half.
With five minutes before the break, South Tahoe took over at its own 32. Less than a minute and half later, Jared Fajman streaked past a defender down the right hash marks and hauled in a 49-yard touchdown pass. Fajman also caught the two-point conversion pass, increasing the Vikings' lead to 21-7 at the 3:36 mark of the second quarter.
There was still plenty of time for Sparks to answer before halftime.
The Railroaders made it across the 50, but faced a fourth-and-9 at the Vikings’ 39. South Tahoe called a timeout to conserve time and give itself a chance to score once more before the break.
The plan worked perfectly. The Vikings forced a turnover on downs, took over at its own 40 and then chipped away at the Sparks defense with precision passing.
South Tahoe picked up 33 yards on two passes, but three straight incompletions seemed to stall the drive at the Sparks 27. A Sparks defensive breakdown allowed Wilson to streak down the left hash marks and Cefalu connected with him for a 27-yard touchdown reception with 1:09 to go in the half. The two-point conversion made it 29-7 game.
South Tahoe nearly delivered the dagger from the opening kick of the second half after the Vikings recovered a fumbled kickoff at the Sparks 30.
But on the first play from scrimmage, Cefalu lobbed a ball toward the end zone that was bobbled and fell into the hands of the Railroaders.
Sparks started a drive at the 17, and after milking over eight minutes off the clock, backup quarterback Arturo Herrera took a naked bootleg around the left side for a 1-yard touchdown run, closing the gap to 29-14 with 3:38 left in the third quarter.
Then Sparks’ defense stepped up on the next drive, bending but not breaking as the hosts forced a turnover on downs when the Vikings were 10 yards from the end zone.
However, without the ability to move the ball through the air, the Railroaders could only advance the ball to their own 36 before punting away.
“We were kind of hamstrung because we’re down a couple receivers. It ties your passing game up,” Kittrell said.
This time, South Tahoe wouldn’t be denied. On third-and-10 at the Sparks 43, Cefalo fired a pass into Brandon Cramer on an inside slant and it was off to the races for a 43-yard touchdown. The California school converted the two-point conversion for a 37-14 edge with 7:05 to play.
South Tahoe’s kicking game was ineffective all night, so instead of kicking it downfield, the Vikings were able to recover an onside kick at the Sparks 40.
A 30-yard run by Dylan Gardner set up the Vikes first and goal at the 10. Cefalu threw three consecutive incompletions, but on fourth-and-goal, Cefalu hooked up with Wilson for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was blocked, leaving the scoreboard reading 43-14 with 6:18 on the clock.
Sparks fumbled on its next possession and Jason Rogers pounced on the ball at the Sparks 15, giving the ball back to the Vikings.
With a little over four minutes left, Gardner punched it in from 5 yards out. South Tahoe split the uprights on the point after, increasing the lead to the final 50-14 margin.
Sparks (0-8, 0-7) is at Dayton Oct. 19. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.