SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - Nothing has come easy for the Carson High football team this season, not even its first win.
On Saturday against South Tahoe, just like every other game this season, the Senators did everything they could to win-and lose. But Carson's Scott O'Brien intercepted Viking quarterback Brandon Tinlin's pass with only seconds remaining, putting an end to a furious comeback, as the Senators held on for a 28-22 win at South Tahoe High.
Was it pretty? No. But first-year coach Shane Quilling doesn't care.
"I don't care what it looked like, it was a win," Quilling said. "There was a big sigh of relief after the game. I can't fault the kids for the last few weeks, they've given it everything they had. But hey, it's time to start winning. Like I said earlier, it's McQueen and Elko, then everybody else."
The win was critical for Carson (1-4, overall, 1-2 league) and its Northern 4A playoff hopes. The top four teams from the Sierra League qualify. The Senators already have two league losses to Hug and Reno. And with only two league games remaining (Wooster, Douglas), they would've been forced to win both if they lost to the winless Vikings (0-5, 0-2).
Senior Josh Carter, who rushed for three touchdowns, didn't imagine losing the first four games. Now he hopes that Carson has figured out what it takes to win and will use that the rest of the season, starting next Saturday against Wooster.
"Wooster's a little down this year but we can't just walk out on the field against anyone and expect to win," said Carter about the Colts, who lost to Douglas 28-20 on Friday. "I didn't think it would take this long to get our first win, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We've always found ways to lose games this year, so it feels good to find a way to win one.
As seniors, we really want to do well this season, but we need the juniors to step up, too. Now we can hopefully start playing more as team."
The Senators held the Vikings to minus-10 yards rushing. But South Tahoe wasn't looking to run the ball. Tinlin threw 50 passes, completing 15 of them for 266 yards. By himself, Tinlin kept the Vikings in the game, but he had to. Their running game was anemic and Carson jumped out to a 28-9 lead after Carson's 4-yard TD run in the third quarter.
Quilling wasn't really expecting South Tahoe to comeback like they did, not after his team was up 19 points in the fourth quarter.
"We had some big plays and it looked like we would bury them, but Tinlin kept them in it," Quilling said of Tinlin, who passed for 192 yards in the first half, including an 80-yard bomb to Robert Smith in the first quarter. "I thought we got great pressure on him and had good coverage, but he made some plays. We just couldn't sustain drives when we needed to and that's how they got back in it. But the kids battled and I'm glad they got their first win."
Running back Chris Kotter made most of the big plays. Kotter rushed for 111 yards in the first half and finished with 124 on 16 carries. Besides his 38-yard TD run in the first quarter that gave Carson its first lead of the game, the 5-foot-7, 160 pound junior also had a 55 -yard run in the second quarter, which set up Carter's first touchdown, a 14-yard run to give the Senators a 14-9 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Tinlin threw for another touchdown and Garrett McIntyre's 2-yard TD run with 3:50 remaining put the Vikings within a touchdown. But O'Brien's interception sealed the victory. O'Brien also rushed for 57 yards and completed 5-of-9 passes for 44 yards.
"It's nice when Chris gets his big runs, so I can just do what I need to do, get the short yardage," said Carter, who rushed for 56 yards. "As close as this game was, I think we'll have more confidence going into our last few games. I'm definitely more optimistic about making the playoffs now."