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Tigers claw back, but fall short against Burbank

Roseville's furious rally not enough
By: Kurt Johnson, Press-Tribune sports editor
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After giving up big plays throughout the first half that put them in a huge hole, the Roseville High School football team stormed back, but the deficit was too large as the Tigers dropped a tough 36-27 game to Burbank in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal Friday night at Hanson Field. Roseville moved the ball out near midfield in its opening possession of the game before Mike Moreno’s punt was downed at the Burbank one-yard line by defensive back Bo Avery. Though they were pinned deep, the Titans used the big play to quickly escape, as quarterback Miles Freeman found running back Lucky Dozier behind the Roseville safeties for a 98-yard scoring connection that put Burbank up 6-0. A roughing the kicker call on a missed point-after gave the Titans a chance to convert a two-point try that moved the score to 8-0. After another Tiger punt, Freeman unleashed another big play when a sensational catch and run by Lee Washington covered 67 yards to the Roseville eight, leading to another Titan score and an early 14-0 advantage. “We know that their defense swarms all over the field,” Burbank coach John Heffernan said. “We knew we had to take our shots early and we made some big plays.” Behind the passing of Moreno, Roseville moved the ball well in its third attempt, but the drive stalled and the Tigers turned it over on downs at the Burbank 37. The big plays started to go Roseville’s way early in the second quarter as a long punt return put Burbank in business at the Roseville four-yard line. Only a touchdown-saving tackle by Moreno kept the return from adding to the lead. Joie Stricklin and Christian Criste invaded the Titan backfield on the first play after the return, dropping Dozier for a six-yard loss and putting Burbank in a passing situation. The Roseville defense stiffened and the goal-line stand gave the offense the ball at the eight. Moreno and Zack Davis cashed in the defensive effort as the Roseville signal caller found his running back behind the safety down the left sideline for a 91-yard scoring play that carved the lead in half at 14-7. The Titans tallied twice more before intermission as Freeman answered the Moreno toss with a 67-yard scoring scamper on the next offensive play and then scored again from two yards out on the next Burbank possession as the Titans took a 28-7 lead into the locker room. The second half started much like the first when a 69-yard hookup from Freeman to Curtis Holden set up a Freeman to Anthony Larry 12-yard scoring pass that built a seeming insurmountable 36-7 margin with 9:16 to play in the third quarter. “To be a section champion you have to play two good halves, and tonight we played only one good half. We made too many mistakes in the first half.” There was no quit in this Roseville team on this night, however, as the Tigers answered the second-half bell with a powerful running game led by senior Aaron Wagoner. The strong inside runner carried the ball on four of the five plays in Roseville’s first second-half offensive sequence and delivered all 60 of its yards, scoring from 19 yards out to bring Roseville back within 22 points. The running of Wagoner and Moreno mixed with some timely Moreno passing took Roseville on a 58-yard scoring drive on its next chance, and the point-after brought the squad within 15 at 36-21 with two minutes left in the third. A beautifully placed pooch kick by Tiger placekicker Zach Tapia led to a quick turnaround for the Roseville offense as the Titans muffed the ball, which was recovered by Roseville’s Tyler Ash at the Burbank 33. Five plays later, on the first play of the final period, Wagoner burst across the goal line from 19 yards out to bring the Tigers within nine. Roseville’s attempt at a two-point conversion failed when Moreno’s pass was dropped in the back of the end zone. Roseville’s defense provided ample chances for the Tigers to finish the job, but they were unable to convert on offense down the stretch. The Tiger defensive line spent a lot of time in the Burbank backfield throughout the final 24 minutes, with Mike Luzinski, Johnny Rapp, Curtis Morte and Stricklin all providing heavy defensive penetration to slow the Titan attack. “The second half was Roseville football,” Cunha told his team after the game. Two late Roseville drives that could have completed a sensational come-from-behind win fell short. The first ended after a dropped touchdown toss was followed by a Moreno fumble that gave the ball back to Burbank at the Titan 27 with 6:44 remaining. The Titans moved the ball down the field and ate up significant time on the clock but were unable to finish off Roseville. After the Tigers shut down Burbank on downs at their own seven-yard line with just 2:40 to play, two huge Moreno passes moved Roseville to the doorstep. The quarterback hit Andrew Pangburn for 30 yards to cross midfield, and then turned a third-and-15 into first-and-goal with a 46-yard heave to Kyle Bennett. The drive stalled and after a sack dropped Roseville to the 16-yard line for fourth down, Roseville coach Larry Cunha elected to kick the field goal for the first of the two scores he would need to win the game. Tapia’s 33-yard boot struck the right upright and bounced away, sealing the win for Burbank and giving the Titans a trip to the section final against Grant next Friday night. “I thought we were going to give it away there late,” Heffernan said, “but we made the plays when we had to.” The loss ends the Roseville season and the careers of an outstanding senior class. “I am so proud of our seniors,” Cunha said. “There was no quit in them tonight and they played a great second half.” Wagoner, who missed much of the season with a leg injury, turned in a particularly impressive performance after the break, carrying 13 times for 117 yards in the second half on his way to a 141-yard rushing night to close out his Tiger career. Moreno, the Sierra Foothill League offensive MVP, was under heavy duress all night long, but finished his Tiger sojourn with another big statistical night. The senior playmaker completed 16 of 36 passes for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while also tossing a pair of interceptions. He also ran for 74 yards on 10 carries.