Smiling faces after a losing football game?
No, this isn’t a Friday night episode of the Twilight Zone.
That’s just what happens when you go toe-to-toe with the biggest beast in the Valley Oak League for four solid quarters and give them much more than they bargained for on their homecoming night.
And at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium Friday night, the East Union Lancers did just that in its 35-21 loss – a loss characterized by smiles and backslaps and maybe even the emergence of a program at a school that was forced to pull sophomore players up to the varsity level because of low numbers.
As Lancer head coach Willie Herrera was quick to point out, you never coach to lose. But the feeling of knowing that they were one or two big plays away from unseating the blue-and-black behemoth was a great spark for a young group of players that are facing a ridiculously tough league schedule this season.
“We saw some things on film and that’s what you try to do when you watch film – find something that you think you can take advantage of and game plan around that,” Herrera said. “Our guys did what we asked of them, and when it came down to it we were two big plays a way. We preach the little things and that’s the frustration that I have right now as a coach is that if we did those little things tonight then maybe things would have been different.
“We stood toe-to-toe with the goliath of the Valley Oak League, and this was sort of a coming out party for our younger guys who didn’t back down and didn’t give up. You have to be proud as a coach when you can look back on a game and say that.”
Sierra, who hasn’t lost a game this season, looked early on like it was going to waste no time in using its biggest weapon – running back Mark Paule Jr. – to inflict the ground damage that has been the squad’s bread-and-butter . And for the first quarter, it worked to perfection – Paule Jr. scampered in from 9-yards out untouched for the game’s first score, and showed his exceptional speed five minutes later when he broke a 49-yard run that could have been the backbreaker for the Lancers.
But when most of your impact players are young, that hunger and that drive can be tapped like a thick maple tree.
East Union managed to cut Sierra’s lead down to 21-7 before the half, and even though the Timberwolves returned the second half opening kickoff 74 yards and scored on the next play, East Union wasted no time in mounting its own offensive drive to make the score 28-14. On sophomore Issac Huffman’s 53-yard burst up the middle.
Suddenly the outcome of the game didn’t look so clear-cut.
Sophomore quarterback Jack Weaver moved freely to find his targets, and connected on 12-of-21 passing attempts for 99 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and had a pair of interceptions. He was also sacked multiple times.
“They’re a good team and they came out tonight fighting and we knew that they were going to come out like that,” said Sierra wide receiver Hunter Johnson. “This was going to be a tough inner city battle and that’s exactly what it ended up becoming, but we did what we had to do in order to come out ahead.
“At this point it feels good to be undefeated but you can’t take any team for granted because any team can come out on any given night and hit you right in the mouth. We have to play our game and prepare the way that we know how and that means smash mouth football.”
Johnson finished the game with four catches for 101 yards for the Timberwolves. Paule Jr. led the team in scoring with four rushing touchdowns and a passing one to go with the 188 yards he accumulated on 19 carries. Quarterback Devin Nunez finished with 12 rushes for 88 yards, and was 5-of-11 from the pocket for 102 yards.