Game of the Week: Palco picks up win in Natoma
Published on -9/19/2010, 7:37 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
NATOMA -- Palco senior lineman Randy Benoit knew the Roosters had to quickly regain possession in the final minutes of Friday's contest against Natoma. The Tigers had recovered a Rooster fumble, moved 33 yards in seven plays and scored on a 15-yard run from junior quarterback Corey Dunlap to cut Palco's lead to eight points. Then, Natoma executed a perfect onside kick and took over with 1:52 remaining at the Rooster 38-yard line.
"They moved the ball on us pretty easy there and we were starting to die down a little bit," Benoit said. "I knew that if we didn't get the ball back shortly that they were going to score on us again."
On Natoma's first play of the drive, Dunlap ran right and gained nine yards before Benoit forced a fumble.
Freshman Hadley Gillum recovered for Palco and the Roosters ran out the clock to clinch a wild 30-22 victory that featured four lead changes, 11 fumbles (three lost) and two interceptions. Palco, behind its running game and staunch defense, moved to 2-1 overall, 1-0 in District 8 play of Eight-Man, Division II. The Roosters have allowed 31 points all season.
"This was the type of game that we wanted," Palco coach Justin Pierce said. "We wanted low-scoring games. This is where our defense is most effective. Keep the points down and grind it out."
The fumble encapsulated a mistake-filled night for an inexperienced Natoma team that dropped multiple passes, had several close misses on deep balls, collected 77 yards in penalties and had two long plays called back because of flags. Dunlap finished 5-of-23 for 74 yards passing, including just four yards after halftime. Natoma (0-3, 0-1 district) dropped its Homecoming game and lost their seventh straight contest dating back to last season; four of the losses are by 14 points or fewer.
"The kids have to learn how to win first," Tiger coach Ben Labertew said. "It's part of that mentality of understanding when it gets tight, somebody is going to step up and make a play. Instead, sometimes I think they sit there and wait for that bad thing to happen and they got to get through that."
Natoma controlled the game in the first half, running 36 plays to Palco's 17, but the game was 8-8 at intermission. The Tigers scored on the opening drive on a 2-yard run by senior Cameron Eickhoff. Palco tallied a TD later in the first quarter on a 64-yard run from senior Anthony Keller; he finished with 24 carries, 182 yards and three scores, all game highs.
"It was just our line," Keller said. "They executed really well and they blocked amazing."
With three minutes left and Palco up 30-16, Rooster senior fullback Brandon Gosselin fumbled and the Tigers recovered. Natoma eschewed the pass and Dunlap (team-high 75 rushing yards) scored on a 15-yard run.
Freshman Jackson Stull Meiers delivered a perfect onside kick and Eickhoff recovered at the Rooster 38. Two weeks ago, Palco lost a 9-8 contest to Stockton on a last-second field goal, another rarity. Pierce said he "couldn't believe" another special teams play worked against the Roosters, while Keller wasn't certain if Palco could hang on.
"I had a little doubt, but I knew our defense could've stopped them," Keller said. "It wasn't that big of a doubt, but just a little bit."
Benoit, the Tigers' biggest player at 254 pounds and a team captain, knew Palco needed a critical stop. He delivered on Natoma's first play, when he reached around Dunlap, grabbed the nose of the football, and caused the fumble, a play that sealed a Rooster victory.
"I didn't expect that onside kick at all," Benoit said.
"I just knew we had to come out and play defense. That is all we could do, come back and hit them in the mouth again and see if we could get it back for another try."