The Calaveras Redskins control their own destiny in their quest to recapture the Mother Lode League football crown after a 42-28 victory Friday against the Summerville Bears in San Andreas.
Taking a three-touchdown lead into the fourth quarter, Calaveras (7-1, 3-0 MLL) withstood a spirited comeback by the Bears (6-2, 1-2 MLL), who pulled to within a 34-28 margin with just six minutes to play.
“Too little, too late for that,” said Summerville head coach Ben Watson. “They came ready to play and outhit us. When you play against somebody that’s as quick and aggressive as Calaveras is ... we didn’t match their aggressiveness.”
The Redskins sealed the victory with their longest drive of the night, an 11-play, 78-yard march that ate 4:38 of precious clock, and was capped by a trick play.
Facing fourth-and-4 at the Summerville 31 with 1:31 left, Calaveras lined up in a punt formation, appearing poised to pin the Bears deep and give them the full length of the field to drive with no timeouts remaining.
Redskin quarterback/punter Zack Johnson rolled out right as if to get off the boot but instead aimed for the end zone with his arm and found Brian Golston for enough insurance to secure the win.
“We’ve got a pretty good punt package and that’s one of our options,” Calaveras coach Jason Weatherby said. “It’s one of a number of things we can do out of it.”
Bears running back Tanner Krieg, whose 49-yard blast midway through the fourth quarter, bowling over a would-be tackler 20 yards from paydirt, had made it a one possession game, piled up 172 yards on 23 carries.
“Our line did a good job tonight, a lot of big blocks, big holes but turnovers will lose you a game,” Krieg said. “Flat play, non-execution, big turnovers. I think we’re a lot better football team than that but give Calaveras credit. They played a great game and beat us fair and square.”
In fact, the Redskins turned the ball over once more than Summerville, including three fumbles lost in the fourth quarter. That helped Summerville climb back into the game after trailing 34-14 at the end of three periods.
The first of two Bear fourth-quarter touchdowns came on the heels of a Darren Vallelunga fumble recovery which he returned 38 yards to set up the offense at the Calaveras 22. Four plays later, receiver Dalton Day snagged a 23-year pass from Summerville quarterback Jesse Roberson in the middle of the endzone.
“We couldn’t hang on to the ball,” Weatherby said. “Three turnovers in the fourth quarter, I’m surprised we won doing that.”
“They made some mistakes, too,” Watson said. “But we just gave up too many big plays.”
The Bears’ turnovers proved more costly than the Redskins’. The first, a fumble scooped up by Redskins defensive back Mike Seawell led to the first score of the evening. On the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing possession, receiver Christian Moore caught a 34-yard bomb from Johnson for a 6-0 lead.
Seawell had an impact on both sides of the ball, rushing 10 times for 79 yards and providing a finesse complement to powerful fullback Joe Elliott, who led the Redskin attack with 94 yards on 15 carries.
“Joe, of course, runs extremely hard,” said Seawell. “I can’t take him down. I don’t know who could. He and Kellen (Hodgson) both hit the hole hard. I hit it as hard as I can and try to put on a little move.”
“We were able to keep it pretty balanced,” Elliott added.
Summerville answered on their next possession with a 79-yard drive that concluded with a nice one-handed grab of a Roberson pass by Trevor Larsson in the end zone, granting the Bears their only lead of the game, 7-6, with 9:54 to go in the first half.
Calaveras got back on top with a characteristic 15-yard off-tackle push from Elliott to the end zone and won a pivotal goal line showdown with the Bears before going into the locker room at the half. On third down, Seawell caught a pass over the middle from Johnson to extend the lead to 20-7 with just 28 ticks left on the clock.
Summerville was poised to take back the momentum and cut into that lead with a Joey Brocchini interception on the opening drive of the second half near midfield. However, Elliott made an interception three plays later and took it 84 yards to for the touchdown, giving the Redskins a three-touchdown lead.
“I’ve been waiting for that for a while,” Elliott said, “and I got a few great blocks.”
The Bears refused to go away and Krieg returned the ensuing kickoff to the Bears’ 40-yard line.
His 12-yard touchdown run up the gut closed the gap to 26-14 but Calaveras running back Malachi Stockdale made the most of his first carry of the game when the Redskins regained possession. He broke free for 58 yards and a touchdown that fired up the Calaveras sideline unlike any other play on the evening.
“Malachi’s touchdown sweep set it off and from there we were able to hold on,” Elliott said. “It started a spark but we should have had a fire going by then. (Subsequent sloppy play) shouldn’t happen.”
The Redskins travel Friday to Argonaut for a showdown of the MLL’s remaining unbeatens and at least a share of the league championship. It will also be a battle for a possible top seed in the playoffs.
“We don’t lack for (big games) right now,” Weatherby said.
“We knew we had to win this game to stay in the league title (hunt),” Seawell added.
The Bears remain a strong playoff contender and have a crucial clash slated for Friday at Thorsted Field against Amador (7-1, 2-1 MLL).