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The difference between the Shasta football team starting the season 1-5 versus 2-4 is a wide-left field goal.
The Wolves used gritty defense, timely offense and a missed 25-yard Dante Jackson field goal to eek out a 21-20 homecoming win on Friday at Thompson Field.
In the process, Shasta (2-4, 1-1 Eastern Athletic League) showed a resilience it hadn’t since its lone win, a 53-0 pasting of Corning in Week Zero.
“I’m really happy and proud of the boys. It’s been a long four weeks since we’ve had a successful week against Corning and we challenged them in a lot of ways,” Shasta coach JC Hunsaker said. “We were physical at practice, put them through some grueling stuff and they challenged each other mentally and physically. And then they were able to come out and play quality football against a quality ball club and squeak one out.
“And squeaking one out feels a whole lot better than not.”
The game ultimately came down to the missed Jackson field goal, but the second half was packed with back-and-forth action as the Wolves made two defensive stops and Derek Myers came up with two big throws one week after going 0-for-15 in the 44-7 loss to Chico.
The Wolves came out of a 7-7 halftime and used a 72-yard, eight-play drive to take a 14-7 lead with 5 minutes left in the period. Shasta ran the ball all eight times on the drive. The trio of Johari Woods, Nathan Bova and Charles Dietrich ran behind a line that got starters Logan Thibodeau and Kane Stankey back for the game. Woods capped the drive with a 6-yard fullback sweep.
The Vikings’ next possession would ground the final five minutes off the third-period clock before punching in the equalizer of a 13-yard backside screen from Ian Guanzon to Austin York.
And then things got interesting.
After a Shasta three-and-out, the Vikings took a 17-14 lead on Jackson’s 26 yard field goal with 4:48 left in the game.
The Wolves, looking to answer, missed on a second-and-two pass and the Vikings stuffed the third-and-two run by Woods forcing Shasta to go for it on fourth after a timeout.
But an early – and wide – snap forced Bova to fall on the ball on the Wolves’ 6. But the Shasta defense dug in, stuffing Junior Rivera on first down, York on second down while Guanzon tossed an incomplete pass on third down.
“You saw guys coming downhill and making hits and we got better as the game went on; we really did and that’s not something we’ve done this year,” said defensive coordinator Kirk Ramage. “Again, they didn’t hang their head and that’s something we worked on all week. Sometimes you have to soul search, we can go ‘The kids can’t do this or the kids can’t do that, but as a coach what am I doing?’ One of the things I looked at is how we finish practice. I cranked up my intensity this week, not that it had anything to do with a win or loss, but I talked about the mentality of some college and pro teams thriving on offenses not playing well and getting after it. They really bought into it.”
After the defensive stand, Jackson, who had boomed every kickoff deep into the end zone, came in and drilled a 23 yard field goal to put the Vikings up 20-14 with 2:58 left to play.
“First of all defense did their job to force the first field goal that gives the offense a shot,” Hunsaker said. “We botch that snap and goes back forever and you’re thinking the game might be over if they score and we’re down by 10. But the defense got gritty tonight. We saw a little bit of what we thought we could be. In that moment, those guys saying ‘let’s give our offense a shot’ and that’s what we’ve been missing – the belief that one side of the ball is going to complement the other and they did just that tonight.”
Knowing they needed a touchdown, the Wolves – starting from their own 20 – got a 22-yard completion from Myers to Bova to start the drive.
Shasta’s junior quarterback, who had missed on his first two throws of the night, talked about hitting two key passes on what would turn out to be the game-winning drive was a nice redemption after a poor game against Chico one week earlier.
“I just tried to get back to the basics and do what I know I can do,” Myers said. “Obviously, doing what I did last week is never fun but bouncing back and defining who you are is what the whole team brought out of us tonight.”
After the first completion to Bova, Myers would again hook up with the senior wing two plays later that took the ball down to the PV 6 yard line.
“Coach said to look for the 4-route (a curl), but I saw the 7 (corner route) wide open and I said that’s my ball,” Myers said, adding when he let it go he knew it was good. “I thought ‘That’s all Nathan now.’ ”
Dietrich punched the ball in on the next play to give Shasta the one-point edge.
“They gave us 2 minutes to drive 80 yards and that’s what we did,” Hunsaker said.
But the Vikings had life and a kicker with a booming leg.
Seven plays later, PV coach Mark Cooley let the clock run down to 2.7 second before calling a timeout to set up the deciding field goal.
Before Jackson could make his attempt, Hunsaker used the Wolves’ final timeout to ice the kicker. After the pair of timeouts, Jackson eyed the goal posts, but a low snap forced him to kick the ball wide and the Wolves escaped with the win.
“That possibly changes the course of our season – from 1-5 to 2-4. Those paths can be significantly different and we’re on, hopefully, the right path.” Hunsaker said.
The Wolves travel to Red Bluff next week to take on the winless Spartans.
Myers finished 2-of-4 passing for 64 yards, while Woods led the Wolves in rushing, running for 102 yards on 15 carries and two scores.
Dietrich had 94 yards rushing on 11 carries and one score, while Bova ran for 28 yards on six carries.
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