LAKEVIEW — Tri County quarterback John Zuzula scored the first touchdown of the game and Lakeview running back John Zuluaga-Torres scored the final one.
But it was an extra point and a shutdown, second-half defensive effort by both teams that proved to be the difference in Tri County’s 14-13 season-opening victory at Lakeview Friday night.
“That’s a heckuva football team, and not the same one from the last few years,” Lakeview coach Sean Rinehart said. “They wanted it more than we did.”
It was a big win to start the season for the Vikings, who were 1-8 in 2013.
“Winning this game is everything we’ve been working for,” Tri County coach Phil Butler said. “We beat a very good football team. Our guys believed they could win.
“Last season is over. We needed to go through some tough times. This is definitely a start back in the right direction.”
Zuzula was 12-for-21 passing for 98 yards. He also rushed for 60 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown plunge less than three minutes into the game.
Zuluaga-Torres, meanwhile, rushed for 94 yards on 19 carries. His 8-yard touchdown run with just under three minutes left in the first half cut Lakeview’s deficit to 14-13, but the Wildcats were unable to convert the extra point and that proved to be the difference following the scoreless second half.
Lakeview, which was 7-3 one year ago, struggled in the first quarter. The Wildcats went three-plays-and-out on their first possession, which ended with a botched snap and shanked punt to set up the Vikings’ first score. Caleb Ruvalcaba had the biggest plays on both offense and defense in the quarter with a 15-yard run for a first down on a fake punt and an interception to end a Tri County drive.
The Wildcats were whistled for five dead ball penalties and a facemask in the first quarter.
“I don’t know if the no-huddle threw us off, but their running game was very impressive,” Rinehart said. “We expected them to come out here and sling the ball all over the place.”
Lakeview got onto the scoreboard and tied it up 7-7 on a 5-yard touchdown run by quarterback Nate Shurlow and a PAT by Caleb Ruvalcaba midway through the second quarter.
Tri County responded on its next possession when Vidro scored on a 24-yard run, and Dylan Matulis converted his second extra point of the game to make it 14-7. Trailing by one point at halftime, the Wildcats were shut down in the third quarter, but had a drive going into the fourth that ended when a 43-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
“They were the kinds of mistakes you might expect in the first week, but we were only down 13-14 at halftime,” Rinehart said. “We were still in the game, but they played to win and we played not to lose, and it hurt us.”
Lakeview had two more possessions in the fourth quarter, but was unable to get into field goal range again.
“Last year, we were able to finish off drives,” Rinehart said. “Tonight, we just couldn’t finish drives.
“The goals we set — to win a conference championship, win a playoff district and a playoff regional — are still in front of us,” Rinehart added. “Just because we lost tonight, doesn’t mean we have to lose next week.
“We just have to get ready to go again and move on from here.”