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Sierra can clinch first VOL championship

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Manteca High running back Marquis Miller, left, and Sierra linebacker John Perez will look to lead their respective teams into the postseason with victories Friday night. A win over Weston Ranch fo...

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED November 12, 2009 3:20 a.m.

Jeff Harbison opened his postgame speech at Oakdale High with a simple statement that he repeated during an interview with the media.
“We’re not done yet.”

Harbison’s Sierra Timberwolves put themselves in position to earn the program’s first-ever Valley Oak League championship by shocking Oakdale 44-42 last Friday — Sierra’s first varsity win against Oakdale, and Oakdale’s first league loss at home since 2000.

Sierra is one of three area schools gearing up for the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs in the final week of the regular season.

The Timberwolves can capture a piece of the league title by beating visiting Weston Ranch Friday. The other half of the two-way share will belong to either Oakdale or Sonora, and they play each other Friday. Sierra, Oakdale and Sonora are all 5-1 in league, 8-1 overall.

“We don’t have to treat it as such, but it is a championship game,” Harbison said of his team’s regular-season finale. “Since Friday night we’ve been saying ‘Just win out,’ that’s our motto right now.”

What will make things tricky for Harbison and his staff is that they must find a way to keep the overall health of the team, or what’s left of it, intact for the postseason.

Sierra went into last Friday’s contest down three starters and had three more leave the game early, including standout fullback Jarrod Daniels.

Daniels (161 carries, 1,151 yards, 23 TDs) took a hard hit to his head and was hospitalized as a precaution. He was diagnosed with a neck stinger and was cleared to play this week.

“First things first, we have to win,” Harbison said. “Getting that patch on the banner in the gym, has been our goal since beginning of the season.

“At the same time we’d like to be able to limit our banged-up players’ time Friday night.”

With four teams battling for three automatic postseason bids, Oakdale is the only team to have clinched a berth because of its 35-23 victory over Manteca (3-2, 6-3). Sierra has the head-to-head advantage over both Oakdale and Manteca, but Sonora defeated Sierra 17-7 in Week 7.

Manteca blew out Sonora 37-13 on Oct. 16, so it would earn the No. 3 automatic berth should Sonora lose to Oakdale. If Sonora wins, Manteca will likely get in with an at-large bid.

The Buffaloes host rival East Union (2-3, 4-5) with playoff seeding on the line. Manteca has an outside chance of hosting a first-round game depending on what happens to teams currently with seven overall wins this week.

A first-round home game is also on the line in the Trans Valley League, where Ripon (3-1, 7-2) will meet with traditional rival Escalon (3-1, 8-1) at Stouffer Field Friday.

Ripon hasn’t hosted a postseason game since the early 90s and has lost 11 straight to Escalon, the preseason favorite to repeat as league champion. Undefeated Modesto Christian edged Escalon 21-16 last week and had a tough time getting by Ripon 21-13 in Week 7.

“Our playoffs start this week as far as we’re concerned,” Ripon head coach Chris Johnson said. “Escalon is the measuring stick in the TVL, so this is a big game for us. We’re not looking too far ahead and have been totally focused on just this week.”

To contact Jonamar Jacinto, e-mail, or call (209) 249-3538.

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