With the final game of the condensed 2021 football season on the line, Shasta head coach JC Hunsaker relied on third-year varsity running back James Weaver to deliver his curtain call for his senior campaign.
Weaver scored twice in a span of 2 minutes, 6 seconds in the fourth quarter, rallying Shasta past visiting Foothill 28-21 Friday at Thompson Field in the Tri Counties Bank Game of the Week.
Trailing by seven heading into the final quarter and stuck in an offensive rut, Hunsaker called for No. 20 and the FCS Davidson-bound back showed why he’s one of the best runners in the Northern Section. The 6-foot, 190-pound wing broke free for a 64-yard run and capped the drive by hauling in a 19-yard touchdown pass on a waggle throwback from senior quarterback Layton Dunlap to tie the game.
Two plays later, junior safety Zach Wilkes intercepted Foothill quarterback Davis Smith for a third time, setting up Weaver’s 4-yard go-ahead scoring run with 6:42 to play, which ended up being the difference maker.
Video by Tracy Holmes/Shasta County Sports
“(Weaver) came up to me before the game and said he felt different tonight and just have faith in (him),” Hunsaker said. “I said ‘alright, I know what you’re capable of and if you’re believing in yourself then you’re going to have a special night.’ We needed it.”
Weaver tallied 135 of his 184 total yards and both touchdowns in the final period and provided a spark the Wolves (5-1) needed to overcome a sound and physical Cougar defensive unit that had limited Shasta to 102 yards in the first half.
“We weren’t getting the push we wanted to in the first half but we kept grinding,” Weaver said. “I knew in the second half I didn’t have a choice — I had to make big plays. I broke some tackles but my linemen pulled through. I looked them all in the eyes before that last drive and said we needed a big push and that’s what we got.”
Foothill (4-3), which lost to Shasta 42-14 in the first meeting, appeared up to the challenge to snap the Wolves’ four-game winning streak behind a strong rushing attack. Cooper Laloli rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown and Burney transfer Hayden Crook added 59 yards on the ground on nine carries, which included a 12-yard touchdown run.
“I’m proud of our physicality on both sides of the ball,” Foothill coach Joey Brown said. “Our offensive lives and dies by our O-line and I thought we did well against a very physical and aggressive front.”
The first half belonged to the Cougars, who opened the game with a 12-play, 66-yard drive, capped by Smith’s 1-yard quarterback keeper for an early 7-0 lead.
Ethan Behringer recovered a Hunter Pinkston fumble two plays later but Shasta’s defense held. Smith was intercepted twice by Wilkes in the same drive, both passes going off the hands of Foothill receivers – the first was fumbled back to the Cougars while Wilkes held on to the second to halt the scoring threat deep in their own territory.
A 6-yard touchdown strike on fourth and goal from Dunlap to Jack Reindel tied it at 7 in the second quarter. But just as Shasta appeared to gain momentum, Foothill erased it just before half with an 11-play scoring drive. Laloli burst up the middle, bulldozed a defender and found pay dirt from 17-yards out to go into half up 14-7.
Shasta adjusted at intermission and put star defensive lineman Bladen Stankey in at tight end to clear some extra running room. Pinkston raced to a 47-yard touchdown run, following Stankey’s lead block the whole way.
Laloli’s 53-yard run flipped the field but Foothill couldn’t respond, botching a snap on a short field goal attempt and failed to come away with points after the red zone trip. The Cougars wouldn’t make that mistake the next chance. Crook bolted on an inside zone run for a 12-yard score to put the Cougars ahead 21-14 late in the third.
Foothill’s defense stopped Shasta’s ensuing possession on fourth-and-1 in Cougar territory but had to punt it back three plays later.
That opened the door for Weaver to put his stamp on his prep career. His strength got him to the next level and his speed allowed him to separate and break off a 64-yard run. Foothill made Bryson Kimp earn 44 tough yards between the tackles on 13 carries but that left the defense vulnerable for Weaver and Pinkston (132 total yards).
“Foothill knows us well and always has a good scheme to combat what we do. But this truly is an offense when you have to pick your poison, the wearing down is eventually going to catch up to you,” Hunsaker said.
Wilkes intercepted his third pass, and Pinkston’s 27-yard run set up Weaver to find pay dirt midway through the fourth.
But Foothill made it interesting.
Smith connected with Aidan Hathaway on a wheel route for a 34-yard gain and picked up a few extra yards on a Shasta unsportsmanlike penalty after the play. The Cougars reached the 12-yard line but Smith was sacked on third down. On fourth-and-12 from the 16, Smith found Jarius Mast along the right sideline but he came up a yard short of the first down marker.
Needing at least one first down, Weaver busted loose for a 48-yarder to ice the game.
“In the huddle before that last drive I told everyone that in years past, this is where teams crumble and we had to kick it into extra gear,” Weaver said.
Dunlap completed 8-of-11 passes for 101 yards and two scores. His counterpart Smith was 6-for-12 passing for 91 yards and added 16 yards on 13 carries, including four sacks. Mast had four catches for 42 yards in the season finale.