A year ago, Joe Nelson had his coming-out party in the Sierra League opener against Damonte Ranch.
Nelson, who didn’t start the game, hooked up with Asa Carter on a 78-yard TD pass with 28 seconds left to give Carson a wild 31-28 win over the Mustangs. Nelson also scored on a 1-yard run.
Trailing 28-24, Carson started the last drive at its own 22. On the first play, Nelson dropped back and lofted a ball toward Carter, who was being face guarded by Robby Garlock. Carter, reaching over the top of Garlock’s head to grab the ball, outraced the rest of the Damonte defense to the end zone for what proved to be the game-winning score.
That game was Nelson’s first extended playing time as a then-backup to Nolan Shine, and it started the Senators on their title run and undefeated league season.
Nelson & Co. hopes history repeats itself when the Senators, 4-1 and on a four-game win streak, host Damonte, 2-3, Friday at 7 in the Sierra League opener for both schools.
“I’ll always remember that game, it’s one you can tell your kids about (when you get older),” Nelson said before Monday’s practice. “It was the first game I’d really played much in high school; first time I really contributed. I’ve talked to one of their quarterbacks (Drake Vestbie) in the off-season, and I know they are still upset at losing that game. We are going to have to step up and play a good game.”
Nelson hopes this game can also jump-start his season. The talented senior has completed 38 of 83 passes for 531 yard and five scores. He has also run 35 times for 203 yards.
On paper, his throwing numbers don’t stand out, but this is a case where the numbers don’t tell the story. Nelson has had four potential TDs dropped, and he’s just missed by inches on several other passes. With a little luck, he would be well over the 50 percent rate. And, the Senators haven’t thrown as much because nobody is stopping them on the ground. Nelson is a big part of the run game with 203 yards on 35 attempts.
“I think I’ve done a pretty good job,” Nelson said. “We’ve missed a few (passes). When the long balls aren’t clicking, I’ve been dumping the ball off to running backs and letting them get the first down. I don’t want to force things.
“In the off-season, coach (Blair) Roman told me I’d be running the ball more. Most of my runs have been on designed plays.”
The Mustangs come into the game with a 2-3 record, and Roman says that’s misleading.
“They are a heck of a lot better than that,” Roman said. “They could very easily be 4-1. The Reno game (14-13 loss) could have gone either way and Placer (41-26 loss) is a very good D-3 team down in the Sacramento area. Damonte actually had the lead in the second half of that game. This will be the toughest game since we played Reed.
“Their defense has improved over last year, and they gave us some problems last year. I don’t think we played well last year. Both teams sputtered a lot offensively.”
The teams combind for 25 fourth-quarter points a year ago in the 31-28 Carson win. Three Damonte fumbles led to 14 Carson points.
Damonte’s top defenders are Ricardo Garcia, Garlock and Pearson Lawrence, all with more than 50 tackles. The Mustangs do a lot of run blitzing, which can lead to some big defensive plays, and some big offensive plays. A lot will depend on Carson’s communication on the offensive front.
Offensively, the Mustangs are led by freshman QB Cade McNamara, who has thrown for 735 yards, and running backs Cameron Sandoval (464 yards, 6 TDs) and Sam Banghart (305 yards, 3 TDs). Vestbie is the back-up QB.
“McNamara is a little more athletic,” Roman said. “They do a good job of keeping defenses off balance.”
A KICKING WEAPON
One of the reasons why Carson was able to keep Hug’s offense in check was its kicking game. Junior Johnny Barahona consistently kicked the ball in the end zone (7 times), forcing the Hawks to start at their 20-yard line most of the night.
“I’ve been pretty solid,” Barahona said. “On the kick-offs, I ty to kick it as far and as high as I can to give our guys a chance to cover.”
Barahona is averaging 54 yards per kick-off with 13 touchbacks in 36 attempts.
Jim de Arrieta, Carson’s veteran kicking coach, has been pleased with his protege.
“We’ve just been trying to kick it straight down the middle,” he said. “We’re not trying to position the ball. If it’s not in the end zone, we want it inside the 5. Our goal is to hold them inside the 20 on the return. Coach (Vic Castro) has been doing a good job with the coverage guys.”