Loggers prevail in NCS

Saturday, December 06, 2003 Logger head coach Jack Lakin, who was honored before kickoff by the NCS as its football 'Honor Coach', was soaking wet following the game.

It didn't rain at the Redwood Bowl Friday night, but Lakin's customary red shirt was wet from the bucket of water dumped on him as his players celebrated their perfect season.

"I have always felt that if you do something long enough good things are going to happen," said the 12-year Eureka coach. "I just feel really lucky to have this experience with this football team. It's a real tribute to them and the season they put together. I believe there was a team in the 30's that was called The 'wonder team', and this Eureka High team is going to be known as the 'dream team'."

There was no dreaming in this victory. Casa Grande (11-2), gave the Loggers all they could handle as the Gauchos forced three first-half turnovers -- two interceptions and a fumble -- into a 12-6 lead at halftime.

The Gaucho defense -- a unit that deserves a tremendous amount of praise -- picked off two Larson passes in the first half, and defensive end Manny Lopez returned a Rey Maualuga fumble nine yards for a TD in the first quarter as Casa Grande pushed the Logger Express off the tracks.

Gaucho head coach Rick O'Brien, his emotions written clearly across his face following the win, could not have been more proud of his team, or for that matter, of the Eureka team.

"This isn't a hard spot to be in," he said in respect to his team's excellent season. "You know, Eureka's an extremely talented team, but I thought our defense played a fantastic game. Those guys put us in a position to succeed in the second half, and I think the deciding moment in the game was the opening drive of the second half."

O'Brien was right on the money there. Eureka had moved the ball well in the first half, but the turnovers had killed three drives, and the athletic Gaucho defense had stopped three more.

There would be none of that in the second half though. You could almost sense that Eureka would come out in the third quarter and feed the ball to Vainuku, and lo-and-behold, that's exactly what it did.

It took the Loggers 4 minutes and eight seconds to put the ball into the end zone on consecutive drives as Vainuku capped off a 6-play, 61-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run at 9:59.

Vainuku took the handoff on the conversion and burst over the left side for two points, and the Loggers took their first lead of the night, 14-12.

The Eureka defense forced its only turnover on the next play as defensive back John Brandenburg made a fantastic interception at the Gaucho 39-yard line and returned it to the 35.

The Loggers wasted no time capitalizing on the Casa Grande mistake, as they drove 35 yards in five plays with Purify running untouched on an end-around to the right side from 7 yards out.

Following Vainuku's two-point run, you could almost feel the swing in momentum. The Loggers now led 22-12, and the way their defense was playing, you know the Gauchos were in trouble.

Eureka held Joe Trombetta, who had two consecutive 200-yard games in the playoffs, to 34 yards on 18 carries, and pressured and hurried Gaucho QB Pat Pezet all evening.

That's what a good counter-puncher does though. They take your best shot and then turn around hit you back harder.