Two teams battling for playoff survival, the Carson Senators and South Tahoe Vikings, will collide in a key Sierra League football game Saturday afternoon in South Lake Tahoe. A shot at moving into second-place in the league - and an improved position in the playoff race - will be at stake in the 1:30 contest which is South Tahoe's (0-3 league, 1-4 overall) homecoming.
"This is a key game," Carson coach Shane Quilling said. "This is a chance to go 2-1 in league and to be tied for second-place with somebody. They're all big from here on out, and this is going to be tough because South Tahoe has a good team. Athletically, South Tahoe is as good as anybody in the league, they just don't have a lot of depth."
Quilling knows all about lack of depth. While the injury-plagued Vikings were down to 19 players for Tuesday's practice, although they hope to suit up 21 on Saturday, the Senators will also be under 30 as they continue to try and get healthy.
Running back Alex Martinez and offensive left tackle J.J. Whitehead will be sidelined with injuries and John Gradert, another offensive lineman, will miss at least one more game with a slight MCL tear. The good news is that Gradert could return and play next week when the Senators face Wooster in Reno.
Senior quarterback Kyle Bacon sustained a cracked rib two weeks ago, an injury that kept him from starting last Friday's game against North Valleys, but still came off the bench to run for two touchdowns and throw for two others in Carson's 38-21 homecoming victory. Bacon is scheduled to start Saturday, but Quilling said senior Les Reddick and sophomore Tony Roberts could see action as well.
"You might see all three of them out there," Quilling said.
On the other hand, South Tahoe counters with senior Mike Van Gorden, who has already thrown for 1,249 yards this season. Van Gorden is a double threat who possesses a blue chip best throwing arms and has enough speed that he ran for South Tahoe's Northern 4A championship 4x100 relay team last track season.
"I think he's the best quarterback in the league and I don't imagine you'll hear many arguments on that," Quilling said of Van Gorden. "He's a great runner who's a deep return guy; he can throw on the run and he can throw from the pocket, so we've got to put pressure on him."
Van Gorden's favorite target is Spencer Dean, who has 31 receptions for 483 yards (15.6-yard average).
Injuries have forced South Tahoe's co-coaches Todd McIntyre and Eric Beavers to change offensive and defensive lineups week after week. This week, the biggest change could be in the backfield where junior Buck Pershing has been asked to move from tight end.
"The fact that it's homecoming I think they will play hard," McIntyre said. "It was good to see them play a physical game (against Douglas). If we do that against Carson and North Valleys I think we have a shot to be competitive."
Martin Taylor, the team's leading rusher, has a hip injury but is expected to play.
"They have good wideouts and the running back runs hard, so this is a tough challenge," Quilling said. "They lost to Douglas last week 31-14, but they played much better than the score shows."
The Vikings missed two field goal attempts, two holding penalties wiped out scoring opportunities and one of three turnovers was returned 90 yards for a touchdown. They hope to change all that Saturday.
"It's a pretty good matchup, McIntyre said. "They shouldn't dominate us and we shouldn't dominate them. If we come to play and they come to play, it should be a good high school football game."
Meanwhile, Carson is coming off its best offensive performance of the season last week against North Valleys. In addition to doubling their scoring total for the entire season with 38 points, the Senators gained a season-high 351 yards in total offense, they converted each of their red zone opportunities into points and they had no turnovers. Bryan Maffei rushed for 175 yards on 16 carries (10.9 yards per carry), including an 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put the win on ice.
"We've got to come out and execute on offense again," Quilling said. "We've got to score because they're a team that can come out and score in a hurry."
Notes: Bacon and Maffei were named Carson's co-offensive players of the game, lineman David Cadwallader was defensive player of the game and kicker Matt Mitchell was named as the top special teams player for their performances against North Valleys. The week before in a 28-loss to Reed, tackle Mike Horrigan was defensive player of the game and punter Matt Moore was special teams player of the game. No offensive players were selected.
Steve Yingling of the Tahoe Daily Tribune contributed to this story.