TAHOE CITY - Dayton High School's chances of making the 3A football playoffs look better than ever.
The Dust Devils, thanks to two Travis Wood touchdown passes and a key fourth-quarter sack by Danny Hopper, outlasted North Tahoe 20-14 Saturday afternoon.
Dayton improved to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in conference, moving into third place ahead of Fernley (2-2). The Dust Devils finish with league-leading Truckee (next Saturday), Fernley and Sparks. Dayton should be favored in the latter two contests, and if it can go 2-1 down the stretch, the playoffs are a sure thing.
"This win was huge," Dayton coach Rick Walker said. "It puts us in a pretty good spot in terms of the playoff picture. When guys needed to make plays, they made plays."
Walker did admit to being uncomfortable when North Tahoe scored twice in a five-minute span in the fourth quarter to nearly wipe out Dayton's three-touchdown lead.
Wood had just given Dayton what looked like a pretty safe 20-0 lead when he threw a 20-yard scoring pass to Danny Hopper with 8:44 left in the game, capping an 85-yard drive highlighted by three third-down conversions. Wood threw an 8-yard pass to Zane Walker on a third-and-3 situation from the Dayton 22.
Three plays later, Wood lofted a nice screen pass to Bubba May, who turned it into a 22-yard gain. The third conversion came when North Tahoe actually stopped the Dust Devils, but were hit with a 15-yard penalty.
Whatever momentum Dayton had gained with that long drive was wiped out moments later when Brandon Pfenning returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a score. Gavin Lofstedt's PAT made it 20-7 with 8:28 remaining.
Wood was sacked on the first play of the ensuing drive, spraining his ankle in the process. He left the game. Dayton was forced to punt, and a 28-yard effort gave North Tahoe great field position at the Dayton 48.
The Lakers didn't waste the opportunity, but needed eight plays and more than three minutes of valuable clock time before they reached the end zone. Lofstedt threw a 23-yard scoring strike to Spencer Wright and then added the PAT to make it 20-14 with 3:32 left.
North Tahoe tried an onside kick, and recovered it after it bounced off two Dayton players, much to Walker's chagrin.
"We practice that," Walker said. "That time we looked like we never practiced it."
Dayton's defense, led by linebackers Scott Brower and Anastacio Salazar and defensive ends Hopper and May came up big on the next possession.
On third-and-4 from the Dayton 40, Hopper leaped and batted down Lofstedt's screen pass in the left flat. On fourth down, he sacked Lofstedt for a 15-yard loss, perhaps the biggest play of the season for the Dust Devils.
"That might be true," Walker said, a big smile on his face. "I'll take it."
Brower finished with nine tackles and a fumble recovery, continuing his string of successful outings.
Dayton ran out the clock thanks to a 17-yard run by Erik Hopper and a first-down run by May.
The Dust Devils found themselves in immediate trouble when Wood's third-down pass was intercepted at the Dayton 44 on the game's third play.
A 14-yard run by Julio Terrazas (15 carries, 111 yards) and a 9-yard keeper by Lofstedt pushed the ball to the Dayton 9. Brower, May and Salazar all made big stops, forcing North Tahoe to go for three points.
Lofstedt's 24-yarder was wide right.
Dayton finally got on the board late in the first quarter when Zane Walker (19 carries, 89 yards) scored on a 28-yard run. The PAT made it 7-0. Wood's 12-yard pass to Danny Hopper was the key play in the drive.
After forcing North Tahoe to punt on its next possession, Dayton's offense caught fire again.
An 11-yard screen pass by Wood (135 yards) to Walker gave the Dust Devils a first down at the North Tahoe 42. Three plays later, Wood fired a bullet to Josh Aaker, who caught the ball between two defenders at the 24, shook off a tackle attempt by a third defender and raced to the end zone to make it 14-0 with 8:41 left.
"We call it a switch route where the outside guy runs a post and the inside guy runs a fade," coach Walker said. "Travis had a lot of zip on that ball."
"He (Wood) looked opposite first," Aaker said. "I could feel that third guy on my back. I shook him off and got to the end zone. The line did a great job giving Travis time to throw the ball. We couldn't have done it without them."
Strangely enough, it was Aaker's only catch of the day. He was coming off a three-catch, 123-yard effort in last week's 36-35 loss to Spring Creek.
Neither team threatened seriously the remainder of the half.
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.