El Molino gets boost from unlikely hero

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

FORESTVILLE — Heading into overtime against detested rival Analy on Friday night, El Molino was without its star quarterback, its workhorse running back, its regular placekicker and any semblance of rhythm, having watched a 17-0 lead fritter away into a 17-17 tie.

El Molino's John Carlson. (PD)

But the Lions had a couple of aces up their sleeves — backup John Carlson, and a never-say-die attitude.

“This team, we’re so close, so strong,” said senior Joe Douglass, who was forced to switch from wide receiver to running back when two other runners got hurt. “We believe in each other. We know when things are tough, we’ll find a way to gain the momentum. We always believed we’d come back.”

They might not have done it without Carlson, a junior who normally doesn’t start for the Lions on either offense or defense. He showed up at the Apple Bowl at El Molino High as a role player, and left the field a hero.

Carlson, the second-string quarterback, filled in when star passer Mike Pierson suffered a suspected concussion on a second-quarter sack. Pierson, one of the Redwood Empire’s best quarterbacks, is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and throws the ball like a Manning brother. Carlson is 5-11, 155, and for much of the night threw the ball like a rusty backup.

Carlson completed 2 of 7 passes for 15 yards, with one interception, in regulation play. But his second pass of overtime was a seven-yard strike to Chet Lambert on fourth-and-goal that gave El Mo a seven-point lead.

Under current overtime rules for local high schools, teams get alternating possessions at the opponent’s 10-yard line, playing until one team outscores the other. So after Lambert caught that touchdown pass, Analy got its turn. On second-and-goal from the 8, Tigers quarterback Jake Zanutto threw a short pass, but a backup linebacker was there to make the interception.

You guessed it: John Carlson. He had been inserted into the game to help El Mo’s struggling defense.

“Dylan (Licciardo), our middle linebacker, told me not to blitz,” Carlson explained. “So I got flat (in coverage). He threw it right to me, and I just went down.”

The crowd was enormous here, and Carlson’s takeaway set off a wild celebration as the El Molino student section swarmed the players on the field. Coach Mike Roan was doused with bottles of water, without the benefit of those celebration goggles the major league baseball players are wearing these days.

Both teams are 4-3 overall, 1-2 in the Sonoma County League.

Late in the first quarter, overtime didn’t look like a possibility. The Lions had moved crisply down the field to touchdowns on their first two possessions, mounting drives of 73 yards and 60 yards. Pierson finished the first with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Nordby, who ran most of the way after Analy defensive back Julian Titus Patino had gone for the interception and missed.

But really, it was El Mo running back Tommy Krausmann who dominated the early action. Just 5-7, 150 pounds, Krausmann hit the holes hard and often, and had 86 rushing yards in the first quarter alone. He finished the second scoring drive with a 14-yard run.

“They beat us at what our strength usually is,” Analy coach Dan Bourdon said. “We’ve been really good against the run all year.”

The Lions added a field goal by Taylor Davis at the 3:50 mark of the second quarter after defensive lineman Aren Vierra recovered Zanutto’s fumbled shotgun snap.

But on the play before the fumbled snap, Pierson had been shaken up while getting sacked by Analy’s James Toliver and some of his defensive teammates. It soon became apparent that Krausmann was hurt, too; he would stand on the sidelines in the second half with ice on his left shoulder.

Analy took advantage and scored a touchdown 1:17 before halftime. Zanutto passed the Tigers down the field and halfback Cooper Maloney took it in from five yards out.

On its second possession of the third quarter, Analy took over on the El Molino 43-yard line after a shanked punt. Zanutto faked a handoff on the first play and threw a perfect strike to Aaron Maher for the touchdown. It was 17-14 with more than 20 minutes of action remaining.

Both defenses stiffened at that point. El Molino had a scoring opportunity repulsed late in the third quarter when Titus Patino picked off Carlson in the end zone. Analy later drove to the Lions’ 11-yard line, but settled for the field goal that tied the game with 4:12 to go, setting the stage for the late heroics.

“I knew when he had to step up, that he’d be able to do it,” Douglass said of Carlson. “He’s smart, he’s mature, and he can run this team.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.