COLEVILLE — Mineral County enjoyed an advantage in size and virtually every statistic on Saturday.
Except on the scoreboard, however, as a motivated Coleville High football team produced big plays at key moments en route to an all-important 52-34 homecoming victory against the Serpents from Hawthorne.
Quarterback Seth Huhta threw four touchdown passes and ran for two others while Joel Gomez came up with a game-changing interception in the red zone late in the third quarter to put Coleville (5-0 league, 7-0 overall) on track to a win that clinched the Western Division IV 8-man football championship.
The Wolves also gained some revenge for their 2012 season-ending 48-42 loss at Mineral County. Despite losing for the first time all season, the Wolves came out at the bottom of a tie-breaker to decide two playoff teams from a three-way tie for first-place.
“They put us out of the playoffs last year so it’s been a year in the making,” junior lineman Jack Peters said. “We played our hardest.”
The final score isn’t indicative of a game that saw the score tied three ties with two lead changes in the second half. Mineral County (4-2, 7-2) enjoyed an advantage in total offense (458-398), rushing (246-211) and offensive plays (55-37).
“They’re a very good team, very big,” Huhta said. “But we’re kind of a scrappy team, we like getting in there. This was a lot better than last year … this was redemption.”
Mineral County appeared to have the Wolves on the ropes in the third quarter before the Wolves began to kick in with those big plays. And none was any bigger than the game’s first turnover.
After the Wolves scored to take a 30-28 lead, Mineral County answered with a 12-play drive — all on the ground — from its own 15 to the Coleville 14. On fourth-and-goal from the 14, however, quarterback Jared Keuhey’s pass over the middle intercepted by Joel Gomez at the 3.
“That was a backbreaker,” Coleville coach Will Sandy said. “We hadn’t stopped them all day so we needed to get a stop and Joel stepped up and made a big play.”
Gomez not only stopped the threat, his 54-yard return put the Wolves in position to strike again. And on the opening play of the fourth quarter, Huhta cut back behind blocks by Matt Algeo and Ricky Gieser on a 13-yard touchdown run to extend Coleville’s lead to 36-28.
“At halftime, we knew they were going to keep going, that they weren’t going to quit,” Peters said. “They’re a second half team like we are.”
With the score tied 22-22 at halftime, Mineral County received the kickoff and took its first lead when 212-pound fullback Victor Williams darted through a hole on the right side for a 24-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-4 play. It marked Mineral County’s third fourth-down conversion of the game, all of which either resulted in or set up touchdowns.
Coleville answered immediately with another one of those big plays when on third-and-2, Huhta looked to tight end Ricky Gieser on a split screen play. Gieser caught the short pass on the left side, then picked up downfield blocking on his way to a 54-yard touchdown. Gieser also caught a pass for the 2-point conversion to put the Wolves on top, 30-28.
“I just saw the open hole and I wasn’t even thinking about it,” Gieser said. “I just kept my head down and took off.”
The play worked one week before when Gieser’s touchdown put the Wolves on top to stay in their 50-43 win against Virginia City. The sophomore also happens to be the one who suggested the play after seeing during a NFL broadcast.
“I watched the Seahawks run it to their tight end and I thought if they can do it in 11-man we could modify it to make it an 8-man play,” Gieser said. “As it turns out, it works pretty good.”
The Wolves gained some breathing room after Huhta recovered a drive-stopping fumble on the 22. Moments later, Huhta threw a strike on a sideline pattern to Miguel Saldivar for a 63-yard touchdown to make it 44-28.
“I’ve got to give the game to Seth,” Peters said. “He kept his composure and threw the ball great, our receivers did a great job of catching the ball, and our line has been improving over the entire year.”
Huhta returned the compliment.
“I’ve got to thank my teammates, every one of them,” the senior quarterback said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without the linemen; they do all the work, they’re like our work horses.”
Technique was the key against a physical Mineral County team.
“Matt (Algeo, 155 pounds), Ricky (Gieser, 165 pounds) and me have been to offensive and defensive line camps for multiple years, so we know the skills you need to have to take on guys who are bigger,” said Peters, who is Coleville’s biggest player at 220 pounds. “As long as you stay low … low man wins.”
Huhta was also active defensively with 17 tackles and one fumble recovery. Gomez was credited with 16 tackles and Park 14. Ashton Mitchell was in on 13 tackles and had a hand in three of Coleville’s six quarterback sacks.
“This was a big win for both teams,” Sandy said. “We both had to win to get into the playoffs, and you have to give credit to them. They have a good, physical team and an outstanding coach (Curt McElroy).”
Coleville, which wraps up its regular season on Friday at Pyramid Lake, is set as the West’s No. 1 seed going into the state Division IV playoffs. Virginia City (4-1, 5-3) wrapped up the No. 2 seed with its 49-6 win Friday night at home against Whittell. The loss eliminated Mineral County from playoff contention.