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Golden Eagles: league champions

November 7, 2011

Golden Eagle Paul Lucia (3) goes in for the hit against the Lee Vining Tigers after Casey Sullivan forced a fumble. Photo by Melany Lucia

The Lone Pine Golden Eagles are the Hi-Lo League football champions, finishing regular season with an 8-0 record.
The Golden Eagles take on the Lancaster Baptist Eagles this Friday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in round one of the playoffs. Lancaster Baptist is an at-large team from the tough Heritage League.
Lone Pine is ranked seventh in CIF 8-Man Div. 1; Lancaster Baptist, ninth.
This past Friday night’s match-up with the Lee Vining Tigers wasn’t the Lone Pine Golden Eagles’ most exciting football game this year. That distinction goes to the pre-league nail-biter against the Tonopah Muckers. But, for the players and the school, Friday’s 71-0 win had to happen for the Eagles to claim the league championship and the banner that goes with it.
CIF rules require a league be made up of at least four members and the champion has to have played a minimum of three league games. The Hi-Lo League started with five schools. Baker couldn’t field a football team, but the league was still legit with the four remaining members. With a Big Pine forfeit, the Lee Vining game had to be played for Lone Pine to be recognized as the champion and get the nod for a home game to start the playoffs.
The uneven match-up gave Head Coach Chris Riesen a chance to give his non-starters some serious time on the field. It also gave his starters a chance to coach their subs from the sidelines. Riesen started substitutions in the second quarter and by the fourth, “you were hearing names you’d never heard before,” he said. The advantage for a young Lee Vining team: they got to butt heads with the Lone Pine Eagles’ 2012 team.
The Lee Vining Tigers have to be applauded for just showing up. They’d gone through a brutal 74-0 loss to the Big Pine Warriors the week before and were down to a bench of one, and that one had broken fingers. Despite the odds, the Tigers weren’t about to play stunt double for the play-off bound Eagles.
Forced to punt away their first possession, the Tigers’ Jaxon Qualls recovered the ball when an Eagle inadvertently touched it. Lee Vining couldn’t do much against the Eagles defense to capitalize on their luck. At fourth and 16, quarterback Conner Yost set up a fake punt, completed a pass to Fidel Calderon but not enough for the elusive first and turned over the ball to Lone Pine on downs.
First Eagles TD
From the Tigers’ 26, on a hand-off from QB Robert Hunter, Mike Palsrok ran to near midfield, then outran the Tigers defense for Lone Pine’s first TD.
Second Eagles TD
Lone Pine recovered a fumble inside the Tigers’ red zone. Hunter rolled out of the pocket and appeared to be trapped 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He shook loose his pursuers and headed into the end zone. Score: 12-0.
Third Eagles TD
From deep in Eagles’ territory, Hunter let fly to Seth Muniz downfield in light coverage. Score: 19-0.
Fourth Eagles TD
The Lone Pine defense forced a fumble, recovered the ball setting up the offense in Lee Vining territory. Hunter pitched the ball to Palsrok who eluded the Tiger defense and went the distance. Score: 25-0.
Fifth Eagles TD
The Eagles started the second quarter in prime field position at Lee Vining’s 18. On the first play, Casey Sullivan took the hand-off from Hunter, cut across the field in search of the Tiger-free zone, found it and went in for the touchdown. Score: 31-0.
Sixth Eagles TD
With Mike Cappello in as quarterback, the Eagles moved quickly from midfield to near the Tigers’ red zone. Cappello went to Palsrok for the TD. Score: 38-0.
Seventh Eagles TD
Just short of the half, Cappello found Alec Garcia for a 50-yard TD. With the point-after, the lead grew to 45-0.
By the second half, the clock was running and Riesen was emptying his bench, developing the depth the team needs for its run in the playoffs. Garcia, Greg Greene and P.J. Zrelak all showed solid form.
Eighth Eagles TD
Garcia and Zrelak moved the Eagles from their own 25 to Lee Vining’s 19. Zrelak dragged Tigers just short of the goal line then finished the drive with a 1-yard run. Score: 51-0.
Ninth Eagles TD
The Tigers threatened with their deepest penetration into Eagles territory at the 15 to start the fourth quarter. Struggling with bad snaps, the Tigers saw the Eagles goal post recede and were forced to punt at fourth and 25. Garcia took the punt to midfield, took the first play hand-off from Cappello and went in for a 41-yard TD run. Score 57-0.
Tenth Eagles TD
Lone Pine recovered deep in Tiger territory and Zrelak went in for his second TD from inside the 5. Greene completed the 2-point conversion. Score: 65-0.
Eleventh and final Eagle sTD
From his own 19, Yost’s pass was tipped and picked off by Greene who went in for a TD, icing the Eagles’ cake with a 71-0 win.
The last time Lone Pine made it to the 8-man playoffs, as an at-large school, was in 2008, when his current seniors were freshmen. They lost to the eventual champion Faith Baptist. “We were sacrificial lambs,” said Riesen. “We’d like to play Faith Baptist, eventually, just not in the first round.”
The Eagles are eager and healthy. “We’re going to be prepared,” said Riesen. “I told my seniors, play like this is the last time you suit up. We’ll be ready.”

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