Falcons win thriller
A last-minute goal line stand followed by a 79-yard catch-and-run by Jake Cummings lifted the Sierra Lutheran Falcons to a 40-36 Western Division IV 8-man football victory at Smith Valley on Saturday.
Cummings’ touchdown reception from quarterback Ryan Salerno came with 30 seconds remaining as Sierra Lutheran (2-6 overall, 1-5 league) rallied from a 36-6 deficit in the rain to secure its first-ever league football victory and spoil Smith Valley’s homecoming.
“I’ve been part of some incredible games, but I’ve never been part of a comeback like that … it was really pretty special,” Sierra Lutheran coach Jacob Schumacher said. “These kids don’t know how to quit; this win is a testament to their work ethic and it paid off.”
Smith Valley (2-5 overall, 1-4 league) led 36-14 at halftime and 36-20 at the end of three quarters and 36-33 after Sierra Lutheran scored a touchdown with two minutes left to play. The Bulldogs were on the brink of putting the game away, however, they were stopped on fourth-and-goal at the 1.
“Our defense held strong,” Schumacher said. “We probably stopped them on fourth down five or six times, so those guys really came up big.”
After the stop, the Falcons took over with the ball sitting just outside the goal line — “Our entire offense was lined up in the end zone,” Schumacher pointed out — and still had 79 yards to go (on an 80-yard 8-man field).
The call with 48 seconds showing on the clock was a 5-yard out pattern to Cummings.
“We just wanted to get out of the end zone and stop the clock,” Schumacher recalled.
Cummings caught the ball, shed a would-be tackler and began his sideline sprint to the end zone. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound junior caught three passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns on the day, including a momentum-turning 27-yard score shortly before halftime.
The Falcons produced yet one more big defensive play in the final 10 seconds. Smith Valley had the ball near midfield after a pass interference penalty and attempted a screen pass, however, middle linebacker Zach Ferenz stripped the ball and recovered the ball to seal the victory.
“Zach just ripped the ball out of his hands,” Schumacher said of the 6-2, 175-pound senior.
Ferenz had a big day for the defense overall, with 22 tackles (15 solo, seven assists), one interception and one fumble recovery. He was supported by junior Sterling Funk, who was credited with 19 tackles (12 solo) and two forced fumbles, while sophomore Seth Houghton was in on 11 tackles (five solo, six assists).
“They made a lot of big plays,” Schumacher said of Funk and Houghton. “They were the fire in that defense.”
Salerno only completed six of 19 pass attempts for the Falcons, however, the junior finished with 179 yards and four touchdown passes. Cole Contreras completed the one pass he threw for a 27-yard touchdown to Cummings before halftime.
Give some of the credit for that comeback to Sierra Lutheran’s ability to run the ball.
“We tried to throw the ball too much to start the game, but then we settled down and began to run the ball effectively,” Schumacher said.
Salerno rushed for 107 yards and scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that brought the Falcons to within 10 points on the scoreboard. Alex Westre also rushed for 104 yards on 18 carries and caught a 23-yard touchdown pass .
Contreras caught two passes for 14 yards and one touchdown. Logan Schinzing converted PAT kick attempts after the final two touchdowns.