With two turnovers leading to a pair of first-half touchdowns, then yielding a scoring drive midway through the third quarter of Saturday afternoon’s Sonoma County League showdown in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma Valley High School varsity football boys were facing a 21-7 deficit to Piner.
But, back in action after missing two weeks, including one game after sustaining a concussion, Sonoma’s standout senior quarterback Dan Deely shook off being harassed and sacked numerous times in the first half – one sack led to his fumble on the first possession – and took charge of the game.
Taking the adjustments made in the offensive passing game by head coach Bob Midgley and the coaching staff, Deely produced four touchdowns, running for two scores and then hooking up with junior wide receiver Tristan Mertens for the second and third touchdown pass-plays together on the same pattern.
With junior place-kicker Noe Baron’s pair of extra points on their first two touchdowns turning out to be the difference, the Dragons earned a hard-fought, but thrilling 32-30 SCL win over Piner.
While Deely completed 12 passes to five different receivers, junior running back Gabe Bernstein, who got most of the carries as leading rusher senior Austin Bailey was unable to play because of a concussion, packed the ball 16 times for the Dragons and gained 105 yards and had one touchdown run negated with a holding call.
On Sonoma’s second play of the third quarter, trailing the Prospectors 21-7, Bernstein broke free and dashed 67 yards for the touchdown that was called back.
But the Dragons shook off the setback in six plays, including a tough 13-yard first-down run by Bernstein, by scoring on a 27-yard scamper by last year’s SCL’s co-back of the year Deely, who, as an all-league defensive back as well, came up with a big interception and followed with a 38-yard touchdown pass to a slanting Mertens.
Still trailing 21-20, Sonoma’s defense, also missing Bailey, who’s a linebacker, came up with back-to-back big stops, forcing a Prospector punt and a missed fourth-down conversion.
After both defensive stops, the Dragons were back in end zone for a 26-21 advantage on a 30-yard run by Deely, who then worked his quick-strike, pass-over-the-middle to Mertens, who again made the reception in stride and burst 39 yards for the touchdown that looked like the clincher with just three minutes left.
But on its homecoming afternoon, Piner staged a scoring rally that included a 25-yard field goal, followed by a recovered on-sides kick and five-play touchdowns drive to pull to within 32-30. The Prospectors attempted to tie with a two-point conversion pass that Dragon senior Ed Pomeroy defended to preserve the victory.
Leading the way for Sonoma was Deely, who accounted for all five touchdowns, including runs of 27 and 30 yards, and 12 pass completions in 25 attempts for 205 yards and three touchdown passes to Mertens, who finished with four receptions for 108 yards, including touchdowns covering 26, 38 and 39 yards.
For Mertens, it’s been a dazzling two-game stretch on both sides of the ball, with his three-touchdown-catch game against Piner following his three interception game, with one a 35-yard "pick-six" score, in the previous weekend’s nonleague win over John F. Kennedy in Richmond.