Eagles' comeback puts team in semifinalsBy: Matt Long, Sports Editor
Vista del Lago’s varsity football team has reached the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs for the first time in school history and needed a miraculous comeback to do so.
Down 31-14 to El Camino on Friday night, Vista scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to earn the 35-31 win.
“It really was a big win,” Vista coach Chris Jones said. “We were fighting all night long on offense. We had a ton of penalties called on us and it seemed like we were in second-and-long and third-and-long all night.
“The key to the comeback was Brandon Kim blocked a punt and after that we got momentum on our side. Good things happened from that point on. We got a pick-six from J.T. (Winkler) and Brad (Rittenhouse) had a huge hit on their quarterback and it was just like a chain reaction with momentum on our side.”
Vista plays host to sixth seeded Inderkum (10-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday for the right to advance to the title game the following weekend.
“Inderkum is a very good team that’s extremely fast and athletic,” Jones said. “They run the Wing-T and it’s the third straight week we’ve seen that, but each team runs it a bit differently. Inderkum runs and runs and runs the ball and then runs some more.”
Vista 35, El Camino 31
Vista’s young football team got a memorable lesson in the power of momentum Friday night at Prairie City Stadium.
After three frustrating quarters, upstart El Camino had built a 31-14 lead and was on the verge of a major upset in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
Vista Del Lago turned a night of frustration into elation with a remarkable final 12 minutes of play. The host Eagles roared back for a 35-31 victory, earning a spot in the section semifinal against Inderkum next week.
“We never lost hope,” said Vista quarterback Matt Jimison, who scored the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard plunge and locked up the win with a fourth-down dive with less than two minutes left in the game.
El Camino (8-4) led by three scores after Desmond Boyd-Tanner’s 6-yard TD run late in the third quarter. The game turned on a punt, as Brandon Kim snuck through for a block to set Vista up deep in El Camino territory. Josh Pfeffer took it in from four yards out to give his squad a sliver of hope, down 10 points early in the fourth.
J.T. Winkler kicked the Vista (11-1) momentum into high gear moments later, picking off an errant pass from Jonah Lessard and dashing 26 yards for a touchdown. Anderz Mintz’s kick cut El Camino’s lead to three points.
The Vista defense did its job, forcing a quick punt to set up the final drive—a 51-yard march featuring Pfeffer’s tough running, a 12-yard pass from Jimison to Tyler Kaim and a penalty flag against El Camino for encroachment that gave Vista first-and-goal at the 9.
Austin McGuire intercepted a deep El Camino pass and the homestanding Eagles ran out the final 5:48 to cap the victory.
“The blocked punt was huge for our momentum,” Jones said. “When we needed it, we executed and we were able to get the momentum on our side.”
El Camino’s speed and versatility frustrated Vista early. Lessard hooked up with Herman Thomas for an 84-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter to give the visitors a 10-6 lead. Thomas added a rushing TD in the second quarter and had 119 receiving yards in the first half before being shut out in the second half.
Vista’s defense came up big in the first half. Chris Cooper came up with an interception to set up the first of Pfeffer’s two touchdowns on the night.
Vista’s offensive woes included a pair of penalties for chop blocks on one second-quarter drive and two drives in the third halted by holding penalties.
“The first three quarters we were just making mental mistakes,” said Pfeffer, who rushed 28 times for 87 yards. “In the fourth quarter we realized our season could be over and we didn’t want that to happen.”
Todd Mordhurst contributed to this story.