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Petaluma falters late


Instead of gold, Petaluma's Trojans found disappointment in Prospector country Saturday afternoon, losing a tough 26-17 decision on Piner's artificial turf in Santa Rosa. In a game marked by penalties and sundry other miscues, the teams made up in tenacity what they lacked in finesse, slugging it out toe-to-toe and helmet-to-helmet for three bruising quarters until Piner was able to muscle ahead in the final period.

Petaluma led 17-14 after the first three rounds, but Piner drove 73-yards to score the go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter and delivered the knockout punch late in the game after its defense had pinned the Trojans deep in their own territory.

"We made more mistakes than they did," said Petaluma coach Rick Krist. "I was proud of the way we fought back, but we made mistakes at the wrong time."

Both teams were able to rush with some success, with Petaluma Petaluma running for 228 yards and Piner 225. Gabe Medina, getting his biggest workload of the season, carried 20 times for 120 tough yards for the Trojans, while Isiah Carter churned for 111 yards for Piner.

Although Petaluma had several spectacular pass defenses, in the end, Piner quarterback Noel Hernandez was able to complete enough crucial passes to make the difference. He was 9 of 18 for 98 yards for the game. Three of his completions came late in the first quarter when he led the Prospectors on a 63-yard drive that produced the first touchdown on a 15-yard run by Carter. The PAT kick was wide, a miss that looked large until the final period.

One of those mistakes that came at the wrong time for Petaluma occurred at the outset of the second period as the Trojans drove for what appeared would be a game-tying touchdown, only to lose the ball on a fumble at the Piner 3-yard line. Hurtingly ironic, the touchdown-costing drop was the Trojans' only turnover of the game.

Determined after the miscue, the Trojan defense, with Jeremy Spaletta and Nick Mowers coming very close to a safety when they stopped Hernandez at the 1-yard line, forced Piner to quickly punt and the Trojans marched quickly back toward the Piner goal. They again pushed to the 3-yard line, but when a third-down pass was incomplete, Krist called on Greg Thomas for a dead center 20-yard field goal that halved the Piner lead to 6-3.

The field goal came with just over three minutes left in an intensely played first half, but before the teams could break to discuss world matters, Piner blasted right back, going 78 yards in just five plays with Carter scoring on a 21-yard run. A pass tacked on a two-point conversion and the Prospectors look to be in control, 14-3.

But the half wasn't yet over.

After the kickoff, Petaluma probed tentatively at the middle of the Piner line and, with smoke from a grease fire in the Piner barbecue pit blowing across the field and everyone preparing for a needed breather, Petaluma quarterback Patrick Bailey suddenly appeared running down the right sideline after a perfect option read. Before anyone, including the Prospector defenders, could shake their helmets in astonishment, he was gone, 68 yards for a touchdown. Thomas added the PAT and at the half the game was definitely a contest with Piner leading, 14-10.

As the weather began to heat, so did the competition in the second half.

Late in the third period, Bailey found Brandon Marweg waiting patiently behind the Piner defense and hit the senior for a 42-yard pass that moved the ball to the Prospector 27-yard line. On the next play, Medina, who had been running between the tackles all afternoon, managed to round the corner of the Piner defense and was gone for a touchdown. He received a helmet-rattling open field block from Donavan Reece on his journey. Thomas' PAT boot put Petaluma ahead for the first time, 17-14.

It was the last highlight for Petaluma. The Trojans had the ball three times in the final period and punted three times. Piner had the ball three times and scored twice.

The Prospectors took more than four minutes off the clock on an impressive 73-yard march that culminated with a five-yard touchdown throw from Hernandez to Tyler Gabriel. With Petaluma still within catching distance, Piner made sure with a short 33-yard drive that ended with Niko Formosa sprinting into the end zone from eight yards out. Both PAT kicks failed, but it made no difference.

Spaletta had an outstanding defensive game for the Trojans with seven tackles, while linebacker Hunter Williams was also credited with seven. Defensive back Marweg, in addition, to playing strong pass defense, came up to make five tackles, four solo.

Now 2-3 on the season, Petaluma will try again for its first Sonoma County League win when it plays at home Friday night against Healdsburg.

In the preliminary game Petaluma lost for the first time this season, yielding to a late Piner touchdown, 28-21.