Vista rallies to beat El Camino, 35-31

By: Todd Mordhorst/Telegraph Correspondent
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Coach Chris Jones’ young Vista Del Lago 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 Pfeiffer 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 Pfeiffer’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 Pfeiffer’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 Pfeiffer, 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.”

Vista, which hasn’t lost since its season opener against Oak Ridge, will host Inderkum on Friday or Saturday, depending on the outcome of today’s Division II showdown between Folsom and Vacaville.