By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It was a long afternoon for Piner in more ways than one Saturday.
The host Prospectors saw a potential victory slip away after owning an 11-point lead with five minutes to play, losing 30-27 to Drake of San Anselmo in a nonleague match-up.
“We should have won that game, up by 11 points late in the game,” Piner coach John Antonio said. “If we can’t hold on to a lead we have some issues we have to fix on both sides of the ball.”
With Piner (1-1) leading 27-16, the Pirates (2-0) rallied behind its stout fullback, Gabe Ruzzier-Gaul (29 carries for 115 yards and four touchdowns), who scored on a 1-yard dive with 4:34 in the fourth quarter to narrow the Prospectors’ lead to five after a failed two-point conversion.
After a stop by the Drake defense, Ruzzier-Gaul eventually scored again on another 1-yard dive with 1:02 to play to give the Pirates the win.
“He (Ruzzier-Gaul) never gets tired,” Antonio said. “He is a bulldozer.”
On the bright side for Piner, which beat San Rafael 21-8 in its season opener, the Prospectors gave Drake a battle this year after getting rolled over by the Pirates on the road last season, 38-7.
“Piner has some terrific athletes,” Drake coach Ethan Hough said. “We were very fortunate to have won that game. We never quit.”
The game was unusually long for high school — over three hours — due to a cacophony of penalties, temporarily injured players, first-down measurements and official time outs.
“This is one of the longer games I have been involved in (as a coach),” Antonio said.
The long game played under a hot sun may have given the more experienced Pirates the edge they needed to pull out the improbable win.
“All signs pointed out that it wasn’t our day,” Hough said. “I think our conditioning made a difference in the fourth quarter.”
For most of the game, the momentum was flowing Piner’s way, including three interceptions. The Prospectors, however, couldn’t cash in on all their good fortune.
“We got a bunch of breaks but we didn’t convert a score on any of our turnovers,” Antonio said. “We won the turnover battle and lost the game, you don’t see that very often.”
Piner quarterback Noel Hernandez had a solid game (13 for 27, 249 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) throwing scoring passes to four different Prospector receivers.
The highlight of the day for Hernandez was a 67-yard strike down the sideline to wide open receiver Natu Hezchias in the second quarter.
“That quarterback (Hernandez) is very, very good. He has good poise,” Hough said.
Hernandez’s good day helped cover for the Prospectors’ weak running attack (14 carries for -4 yards).
“We couldn’t run the football and that’s a problem,” Antonio said. “Good teams run the football well. We are a good team; we just have to bounce back.”
There isn’t much time for Piner to recover as it travels to play competitive Justin Siena (Napa) on Friday.
“Experience is something we have to gain from today,” Antonio said. “Tomorrow is a new day.”