By Eugenio Torrens
Coming off a program-defining win against Land O’ Lakes on Oct. 20, Sunlake football coach Bill Browning warned his team of letting up against River Ridge.
The Seahawks (7-1) overcame four turnovers and rode their defense — which made a goal line stand as the clock ran out — to hold on for a 20-13 victory on the road against the Knights (5-3) on Oct. 28.
“It wasn’t easy, we had to earn it,” Browning said. “We’ve come up with some goal line stands before in the season, so I figured we could do it again.
“But believe me, I’m going to get gray if we have any more like this.”
The win guaranteed Sunlake will play in the postseason for the first time in its five-year history.
“It’s a big deal,” said quarterback Cameron Stoltz. “It feels real good. The win last week (against Land O’ Lakes), that was a bigger win because that’s what really clinched it and this was just to seal it.”
The Seahawks got the ball to start, but on the fourth play of the drive Stoltz was intercepted by Joshua Kreshon.
But the Sunlake defense came to the rescue, which became the trend of the night.
Knight signal caller Joshua Maisel fumbled on his team’s first play from scrimmage and the Seahawks recovered.
Set up at midfield, Sunlake used a 27-yard run by Mike Lopez to get to the red zone. A 10-yard run by Stoltz and an 8-yard run by Rashaud Daniels got the Seahawks to the River Ridge 5-yard line. Stoltz found Eddie Burgos in the end zone for the game’s first points.
An offsides penalty prompted Sunlake to go for the two-point conversion, but Daniels was stopped, to keep it at 6-0.
A 6-minute drive by the Knights ended in a punt but pinned the Seahawks deep in their own territory.
Stoltz threw his second interception of the night, this one picked off by Brian Clinkscale to set up River Ridge in scoring range.
Three Knight plays yielded 1 yard and Phil Molina trotted out to kick a 33-yard field goal, which was missed wide left.
Sunlake was held to a quick three and out, but a botched snap on the punt attempt left punter Joe Young scrambling and forced to attempt a pass that was ruled intentional grounding.
That set up the Knights at the Sunlake 3. This time, River Ridge would not be denied, although it took a 1-yard plunge on fourth and goal to score.
The Seahawks special teams blocked the ensuing extra point to prevent the Knights from taking the lead.
Both defenses limited the offenses in the first half.
Stoltz was held to 2-of-5 passing, including two interceptions. At halftime, he had more rushing yards, 19, than passing yards, 8.
Maisel didn’t even attempt a pass, but the Seahawks defense stifled the Knights’ running game, holding them to 58 yards in the first half.
During halftime, Stoltz apologized to his team for his play.
“I told all the guys, ‘I’m not making any more mistakes for you guys. I’m sorry,’” Stoltz said. “I’m going to turn it around and play better.”
He improved and the defense didn’t waver.
Sunlake made another trip to the red zone, thanks to a trick halfback pass. But the field goal attempt was blocked.
On their next series, the Seahawks came away with seven points when Stoltz found Jamal Jones on a 29-yard strike to go up 13-6.
River Ridge punted on its next drive. Burgos initially fair caught the punt, but he let it bounce right into his hands and returned it to the Knights’ 10-yard line.
Stoltz pitched it to Daniels for the Seahawks’ third score of the night.
The Knights hung around and answered with their own trick play, a 65-yard reverse touchdown pass from Clinkscale to Brandon Nazzario on third and 10, to make it a one-score game.
The Seahawks fumbled in the fourth quarter, giving the Knights one last chance.
River Ridge took over at its own 41-yard line with 3:08 remaining, and slowly drove down the field, converting on third and fourth downs.
With 13 seconds left, Maisel attempted a pass to Nazzario, but Sunlake was flagged for pass interference to set up the Knights with a first down at the Seahawks’ 5.
River Ridge failed to find the end zone as time expired, securing a playoff spot for Sunlake.
“It could have been a lot better,” Daniels said. “I expect so much from this team and they came through with the win, but I wish we could have done it in a harder way.”
Sunlake travels to Central on Friday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
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