The Lone Pine Golden Eagles 8-man football squad went 2-0 Friday night in an edge-of-your-seat contest against the Tonopah Muckers.
The Eagles who struggled through a rough 2010 season now stand alone as the one undefeated Owens Valley team early this season.
Lone Pine’s opener was a decisive 42-6 romp over the young, inexperienced Mineral County Serpents. But, nobody could describe the Muckers game as a romp; it was a tough, back-and-forth contest that the Eagles refused to lose, despite a questionable call late in the game.
“It was a good win,” said coach Chris Riesen. “We made some mistakes, but we came back. The team handled adversity well, they didn’t fold. I’m proud of the team.”
The Muckers took an early lead, scoring on a quarterback keeper from Lone Pine’s 31 three minutes into the first quarter.
Lone Pine came back with an extended 56-yard drive. After a rocky start to the possession, the Eagles lined up for a punt, then pulled a fast one on the Muckers. Kicker Seth Muniz took the snap, then took off for an 11-yard gain and the first down.
With a holding penalty pushing the Eagles back for a first-and-25, quarterback Robert Hunter connected with Casey Sullivan who tore down the sideline and into the end zone. The 2-point conversion failed, but the Eagles drew within a point of the Muckers at 6-7.
The Eagles defense forced a punt on the next Muckers’ possession. Sullivan was deep for the kick and brought the ball to midfield. From Tonopah’s 20, Hunter pitched the ball out to Mike Palsrok for a 19-yard TD run and the Eagles took a 12-7 lead with more than four minutes left in the quarter.
The Eagles bedeviled the Muckers through the next quarter-and-a-half, stopping their offense, pulling their defense off the line with long counts and racking up more TDs, seemingly at will.
In mid-second quarter, Lone Pine started a brief TD drive deep in Muckers’ territory, thanks to another Sullivan punt return and a 15-yard penalty against Tonopah. The offensive line gave Hunter enough time to find Palsrock who went in for his second TD of the game. The third Eagles’ 2-point conversion failed; those failures would come back to haunt Lone Pine later in the game. Lone Pine was ahead 18-7.
Tonopah’s game went from bad to worse when P.J. Zerlak recovered a loose ball on the Muckers’ next possession, giving Lone Pine great field position and another Hunter to Palsrock TD. This time the conversion worked and the Eagles were ahead 26-7.
The Muckers had had enough. Sitting at their own 27-yard line, Tonopah quarterback Seth Littlefield launched the ball deep to David Mcgaw for a one-play, 53-yard TD and the Muckers had narrowed the Eagles’s lead 26-13.
Lone Pine’s answering drive was aborted when Mucker Jason Carman forced a fumble and a turnover.
Littlefield took off up the middle from Lone Pine’s 25 for a second consecutive TD. Tonopah’s 2-point conversion put the Muckers within striking distance at 26-21.
Tonopah was on a roll. The Muckers recovered their on-sides kick, giving them possession in Lone Pine territory. The Eagles’ defense held; with just 40 seconds on the clock, Lone Pine regained possession on downs. The Eagles mounted a strong drive, but were stopped short by the clock.
The Muckers picked up in the second half where they left off. Mcgaw intercepted a pressured Hunter pass in the end zone, running the ball 37-yards to near midfield. Tonopah drove relentlessly back into the end zone, finishing the drive with a pass to Derick Otero at second-and-17. A successful conversion put the Muckers ahead 26-29.
With five minutes left in the game, the Eagles took the lead back. After a QB sack and short gain by Palsrok, the Eagles were stuck at fourth-and-two on the Tonopah 28. Hunter scrambled for the first and then some, setting the ball at the 17-yard line. Hunter connected with Palsrok for an 11-yard gain, then found Alec Garcia for a TD. Garcia took in the 2-point conversion and the Eagles were back on top by a slim 34-29.
A decisive hit by Shane Riesen put Tonopah at four-and-one just inside Lone Pine territory. Littlefield connected with Mcgaw who headed straight down the sidelines for the end zone. Then all hell broke loose.
Sullivan punched the ball out of Mcgaw’s hands, the ball appeared to roll into the end zone with Palsrok on the recovery. The officials didn’t quite see it that way.
The official ruling: Lone Pine was penalized 15 yards, or half the distance to the goal line, for “illegal touching.” The referees determined that Palsrok had stepped out of bounds prior to the fumble recovery.
“They blew the call,” said Riesen. “The players were pretty upset, but they got over it and put the game away.”
Tonopah took advantage of the call that put the ball at Lone Pine’s 3-yard line. Littlefield handed the ball off to Emmit Davis for a touchdown, then the 2-point conversion. The Muckers were back on top by a slim margin, 34-37.
With just under two minutes left, Hunter went to Sullivan for critical yardage. With a first down at Tonopah’s 29, the Eagles stalled out. Facing a three-and-one, Hunter found Palsrok for a 31-yard TD and the Eagles led, 40-37.
Tonopah went back to work with over a minute left, but the effort was squelched by a QB sack, loose ball and recovery by Gabe Galindo.
Tonopah used its last time-out to stall Lone Pine’s drive, but it didn’t work. Hunter took a knee at three-and-nine with a half-minute on the clock and the game was over.
Riesen’s game plan this week is to work on the Eagles’ running game. The Muckers effectively shut down the run Friday night.
Hunter threw for 305 yards; the Eagles gained 101 yards on the ground.
Lone Pine Golden Eagles face the Antelope Valley Christian plain-old Eagles at home Friday at 7 p.m.