FOLSOM — Scoring the fourth quarter’s only points, host Vista del Lago turned back El Dorado 33-19 to open the Sierra Valley Conference season.
Friday’s matchup at Prairie City Stadium featured the run-oriented Cougars against the pass-happy Eagles. While El Dorado held its ground against the aerial assault of Vista quarterback Matt Jimison, two late-game pass completions for touchdowns proved to be the difference.
Despite the loss, the Cougars gave the 17th-ranked Eagles all they could handle. El Dorado bounced back from a first-possession safety to twice hold eight-point leads. The score was knotted at 19-all after three quarters of play.
“The kids take a lot of pride representing Placerville and came down here wanting to win and prove we were a force,” Cougar coach Joe Volek said. “I though our effort was 100 percent … everyone saw that. We’re right there but we need to take that next step and beat someone we’re not supposed to beat.”
Friday’s action took place on Prairie City Stadium’s blue turf under dim lighting. Once the switch flipped for extra watts, El Dorado took off after a Juan Vargas fumble recovery, Logan Kirby’s straight-ahead running and Brandon Eldridge’s 29 yard field goal put the Cougars up 3-2.
Vista wasted a long return with another fumble that AlexLeBaron recovered for El Dorado. Kirby (27 carries, 142 yards) rumbled for 12 yards, quarterback Nick Bonniksen, 15, and Derek Delfino, on his first touch, the final 28 before Eldridge added the point after.
“It was a 35-counter and I cut back across the middle and dove for the pylon,” Delfino said. “Our team showed a lot of heart to stick with them to the end.”
Jimison went to work and led the Eagles inside the Cougars’ 10 yard line but was stopped on fourth down. On their next series, Jimison went over the top to find Brayden Shouse (14 catches, 223 yards) behind the El Dorado secondary for a 41-yard touchdown strike. Cougar Cody Miller intercepted Jimison’s two-point try.
Though Jimison passed for over 400 yards, El Dorado did apply pressure. Donovan Mayer sacked Jimison twice, once when Talon Vancleave forced Jimison up in the pocket. Delfino also dropped the Eagle junior for a loss.
“The defense played hard and stepped up tonight,” Mayer said. “We’ll keep improving. We did a lot better than before (against Vista) and we’ll keep working at it.”
After Vista pushed ahead thanks to a field goal, it reciprocated on the safety and the Cougars led 12-11 at halftime.
Another long return had the hosts in good position to open the third quarter but four plays later, Jeremiah Romero’s takeaway gave El Dorado the ball. Behind the running of Kirby and Delfino, two catches by Bradley Schmidt and one by Zach Culp, the Cougars found the end zone when Kirby covered the last 10 yards. Eldridge’s kick made it 19-11.
Shouse’s 7-yard catch and a successful two-point conversion sent the teams to the fourth deadlocked at 19s.
Vista needed 15 yards to move the chains but instead struck for 80 when once again Shouse slipped behind the El Dorado backfield to make the grab at the Cougar 45 and race into the end zone. Later, a missed assignment let Eagle Chris Veit catch Jimison’s 30-yard throw and walk in from the 5.
The Cougars tried to answer but Austin Muir sacked Bonniksen (14 carries, 97 yards) to force a punt with 6:22 left and Mitch Jones intercepted Bonniksen with 53 ticks to play to seal Vista’s win.