View Mobile Site

No matter what: T’wolves resilient

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED October 18, 2014 1:01 a.m.

Let’s play a word association game, shall we? When I say “Sierra High football,” what adjectives and superlatives spring to mind?

Electric? Sure.

Fast? In spots.

Potent? You betcha.

Physical and strong? In spades.

Focused? The company line and mantra – “one game at a time” – has been drilled into these teenagers like the alphabet.

But given what you already know about this sensational Sierra High football team, with all of its running clocks and astronomical scores and its signature win over Central Catholic, would you have ever said they were “resilient”?

Me neither.

To this point, Sierra hasn’t needed to be resilient. The Timberwolves have feasted on their schedule, pulverizing lesser opponents like Ripon, Central Valley, Chavez, Kimball and Lathrop.

In its only taut victory – a 17-14 nail-biter against Central Catholic – one could argue that Sierra was “determined” and “opportunistic,” not “resilient.”

Rewind the tape. The Timberwolves trailed by four in the fourth quarter and then squeaked out a victory by the length of Hunter Johnson’s arms. Literally. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver made one key grab after another, scoring on a 6-yard pass he tipped to himself.

Exciting and clutch?

No doubt.

Resilient, though?

Not like Friday night when the Timberwolves’ quest for a Valley Oak League championship swallowed another contender.

This one didn’t go down the gullet without a fight.

Sierra watched a seemingly insurmountable 21-point lead evaporate in the space of two minutes and then leaned on will in the final 24 minutes for a 31-20 victory.

The Timberwolves overcame adversity, injury and its own silly mistakes to slay one of Northern California’s best for just the second time in program history.

“We talked about digging deep and having character. We had faith that they’d get it done and they got it done,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “They’ve got that ‘it’ factor like we haven’t seen very often. They want to play football.

“Just look at them. The story is right there. The story isn’t me. The story is right there – their heart, their resolve, them getting it done.”

It wasn’t your typical Sierra High victory, to be sure.

Let’s start with the opponent. The Oakdale Mustangs have worn the lacquer and fabric thin on the Valley Oak League’s throne from years of occupancy. The Mustangs have netted nine league titles since 2000, captured three Sac-Joaquin Section titles and reached the 2012 CIF State Bowl game.

Lofty credentials, no doubt, and they’ve legitimized the Mustangs as the measuring stick for all medium-sized programs in the Central Valley. Sierra (and Manteca) included.

So even as the Timberwolves rocketed out to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter on Friday evening, Harbison and his sideline expected the former champ to get off the mat.

Not roll over and die.

Buoyed by fullback Frankie Trent’s straight-ahead style and Darus Nelson’s speed on special teams, Oakdale did just that. And before long, the scoreboard, once tilted comfortably in Sierra’s favor, found its balance.

Oakdale cut the deficit to 21-14 by the intermission, thanks in large part to a spectacular 84-yard punt return touchdown by Nelson. The shifty junior turned circles on the turf at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium before finding a crease up the visitor’s sideline and turning on his sprinter’s speed.

The Oakdale crowd sprang to life. The visitor’s sideline pulsated. And there was an uneasiness about Sierra, which seemed to permeate the start of the second half.

The omens were everywhere you looked.

Devin Nunez threw an ill-advised interception in the third quarter that safety Tyler Flores returned to the Sierra 5-yard line. The Mustangs eventually missed a chip-shot field goal, but you got the sense that the visitors were closing in on a heist.

On Sierra’s next possession, Hunter Johnson, the VOL’s all-league punter who only hits deep spirals, shanked a kick off the side of his foot that gave Oakdale the ball at the Sierra 46.

On that drive, sophomore safety SeuSeu Alofaituli left the game with a shoulder injury after absorbing a punishing blow from Trent.

Oh no.

Alofaituli has been called “the thinker” by Harbison, and as such, the sophomore has inherited a leadership role in the secondary.

Would Sierra crumble in the clutch? Not this bunch.

As it turns out, not only are they supremely gifted and talented, but they’re also, well, you know.

Oakdale reached the Sierra 19-yard line on Trent’s 4-yard carry that knocked Alofaituli from the game, but the Timberwolves’ defensive line dug its heels in at the 18.

If they Mustangs were going to overtake Sierra, they’d have to seek the lead through the air.

Trent and Brock Whiting were stuffed on successive plays and quarterback Adam Olsen threw wide of wideout Brandon Davis in the end zone on fourth down, giving the ball back to Sierra.

“It was all about heart. Everything was about heart. I went out, but the team held on,” Alofaituli said, steam pouring from his curly ‘fro.

“The defensive line plugged their holes. The linebackers came up and filled, and the corners gave us pass protection. Everyone was great. Coach Harbison does a great job of coaching us up, but this was all about heart.”

Of course, the game wasn’t over. Leave it the offense to drive home the word of the day – resiliency.

Faced with a fourth-and-1 at its own 27, Harbison called a timeout and gathered his entire team around him. He begged an offensive line that was gassed and overpowered at times in the second half for one yard.

They gave him three, and then opened a hole wide enough for Mark Paule Jr. to race 66 yards on the ensuing snap, setting up Nunez’s game-clinching 6-yard touchdown pass.

Sierra was 4 of 5 on fourth-down conversions and scored on each possession.

“We said we needed to give everything we had,” center Joseph Valenzuela said, replaying the timeout with four minutes left.

“We needed all our heart to come out then. We got the job done. We needed one yard, but we didn’t go for one yard. We wanted to get as many yards as we could get, no matter what.”

The night was defined by those three simple words.

No. Matter. What.

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...