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Sierra gearing up for potent passing attack in second round

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POSTED November 26, 2009 1:48 a.m.
The Sierra Timberwolves have reason to be thankful.

The Sac-Joaquin Section’s third-seeded Division III playoff team will celebrate Thanksgiving with practice starting at 9 this morning.

Sierra (10-1) is preparing for its second-round matchup with No. 6 Benicia (9-2). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.

After qualifying for the section playoffs for the first time in its 14th varsity season in 2008, head coach Jeff Harbison is grateful that his team is back in the mix and two wins away from a finals berth.

“They are looking forward to practicing on Thanksgiving,” Harbison said after Wednesday’s session. “You look at how many teams start out in the season and we’re down to just 40 in the section. It’s a privilege to practice knowing that we’re preparing to play another game the day after Thanksgiving.”

Sierra is coming off a 59-6 thumping of Mira Loma in its playoff opener, while Benicia edged No. 11 Patterson 26-20 in overtime. Benicia led 20-7 at halftime, and an 11-yard pass from standout quarterback Andrew McNeece to Chris Mamon decided it in the extra period.

Patterson is a common opponent for Sierra and Benicia. Sierra defeated the Tigers 17-7 in a Week-3 non-league contest, but both squads were shorthanded. Sierra quarterback Jonathan Davis did not play in the first half, and neither did Patterson’s starting and No. 2 signal callers.

Benicia’s losses this season came against 10-1 teams Alhambra (41-21) of the North Coast Section and Vanden (47-14), the section’s No. 4 seed in Division III.

“I don’t think you can compare the two games,” Benicia coach Craig Holden said. “(Sierra’s game vs. Patterson) was in Week 3, and ours was Week 11. The way we played then vs. in Week 11 are completely different.

“The common opponent thing is kind of a moot point.”

Benicia is good at making points behind McNeece and two 1,000-yard receivers. McNeese has completed 61.6 percent of his 292 passes for 2,675 yards, 33 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Cory Fisher (60 receptions, 1,049 yards, 16 TDs) and Mamon (51, 1,041, 13) present matchup problems for Sierra’s smaller defensive backs at 6-foot-2 and 6-1, respectively.

The Panthers keep defenses honest with shifty running backs Cameron Johnson and Elayzer Coleman combining for 1,131 yards and 15 touchdowns.

“(Fisher and Mamon) are tremendous athletes with a lot of height and great speed,” Harbison said. “We come from a league (Valley Oak) that wants to ground it and pound it, and these guys want to air it out.

“It’s a different challenge for us this week. They go five wide (receivers) most of the time, however they can run the ball.”

Harbison said he hasn’t made any major adjustments to his 3-3 nickel defense, and cornerback/free safety Anthony Hall said his game won’t change for Benicia’s prolific passing attack. Hall has two interceptions, both of which he returned for touchdowns.

Hall and the Timberwolves have experience defending some of the state’s best athletes.

In Week 2, Sierra squeaked out a 27-26 victory over Granada on the road. Granada features running back George Atkinson, who took third in the CIF State Track and Field Championships 100-meter dash as a sophomore.

And Hall kept 6-3 wide receiver Angell Mayfield in check in Sierra’s regular-season finale against Weston Ranch. Mayfield placed sixth in the 110-meter hurdles at the state track meet last year, and Benicia’s Mamon was 11th in the preliminaries.

“They are fast and they use that to their advantage,” said the 5-7 Hall. “I just have to play them like I have any other receiver.”

Benicia’s multi-front defense will focus in on Sierra running back Jarrod Daniels (1,381 yards, 27 TDs), who holds the program’s single-season rushing, single-season touchdown and career rushing and touchdown records.

Daniels ran for 199 yards and three scores all in the first half against Mira Loma last week.

Davis has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns to three interceptions but has played just eight full games for Sierra. Hall leads the receivers with 49 catches, 713 yards and nine TDs.
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