By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Trailing going into the fourth quarter, Piner rallied to defeat visiting Petaluma, 26-17, Saturday afternoon in the Sonoma County League opener for both teams.
The Prospectors regained the lead early in the final stanza on a 5-yard pass from Noel Hernandez to Tyler Gabriel. Then, with 2:32 left on the clock, they got an insurance score when Niko Formosa ran the ball in from the 8-yard line.
“This was the biggest win for the program in the three years I’ve been coaching at Piner,” a thrilled John Antonio said. “It shows our program is headed in the right direction because Petaluma is always one of the top teams in the SCL.”
Piner is in position to have its most successful season in at least 10 years.
The Prospectors are now 3-2 and have five regular-season games remaining. Their best record since 2004 was 4-6 which they accomplished last year.
Piner appeared on its way to an easy victory until Petaluma quarterback Patrick Bailey raced 68 yards to pay dirt on the final play of the first half. That narrowed the lead to 14-10.
The Trojans took their only lead in the third quarter when running back Gabe Medina scored from 26 yards out.
There were 16 penalties called, nine of those against Petaluma.
“I think the game came down to which team made the least amount of mistakes,” Trojans coach Rick Krist said. “Unfortunately for us, we made more. We messed up several scoring opportunities with penalties and turnovers.
“Still, I was proud of the kids. They played gutsy despite the mistakes and penalties.”
Like his counterpart, Antonio wasn’t happy with his team being whistled for penalties.
“We’ve got to play smarter,” he said. “We’ve been working to cut down mistakes all season.”
The Prospectors did accomplish one goal. For the first time this season, they had a 100-yard rusher. Isiah Carter ran for 111 yards.
Hernandez, who threw his ninth touchdown pass of the year, completed 11-of-19 passes for 137 yards.
As has been the case all season, the Piner defense played well.
The Prospectors have given up an average of 13 points per game.
Peter Barbieri led the way with 11 tackles. The 220-pound junior also was credited with a sack and forced fumble.
Ty Gabriel, with 10 tackles, was also outstanding.
While the defense held the Trojans to two touchdowns, they couldn’t contain Medina. He finished with 122 yards on 21 touches.
Last week against Jefferson, he gained 200 yards.
Bailey also had his best stats of the season.
Besides the 68-yard touchdown run off the option, he completed 6-of-13 passes for 87 yards.
Petaluma, now 2-3, hosts Healdsburg next Friday.
Piner won’t have long to savor Saturday’s victory. Come Monday, the Prospectors will start preparing for a Friday night date with Analy. The Tigers are heavy favorites to repeat as SCL champions and Piner might be the second-best team in the league.
“It feels good to be 3-2 going into Analy week,” Antonio said. “The program is moving in the right direction.”