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Defense has come together for Sierras postseason run
Sierra assistant coach Andrew Panigada goes over the game plan with the defensive linemen during halftime of Saturdays CIF State Division IV-A Regional Bowl Game at River Valley High of Yuba City, where the Timberwolves outlasted Sutter, 17-14. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Mark Paule Jr. has starred on the offensive side for Sierra High’s football team, but after Saturday’s CIF State Division IV-A Regional Bowl Game victory over Sutter he gave the defense its due.

The Timberwolves (9-5) once again kept an opposing offense from reaching the end zone, and their 17-13 win at buys them another week of postseason action. Sierra heads to Chowchilla (13-2) this Saturday for a state bowl championship.

“It was all about our defense,” Paule said. “Defense wins games and defense wins championships, just like it did tonight.”

Paule, who also plays free safety, rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns while quarterback Mark Vicente had 103 yards on 16 carries. The two alone outgained Sutter’s prolific Wing-T attack, which was held to 198 yards from scrimmage and 108 on the ground. Defensive end Andrew Guevara accounted for 2.5 of Sierra’s five sacks for the night.

Sutter (9-5) averaged 360 yards in its three North Section Division III playoff games, including 209 in its 38-7 clobbering of rival Orland. The Sierra defense didn’t give the Huskies much room to roam Saturday, however. Sophomore Bryce Kunkle led Sutter with 78 yards, but 39 of them came on his first carry of the game. Jacob Gildea, who had 1,238 yards coming in, was handcuffed for 19 on nine carries. 

Kunkle was responsible for Sutter’s lone touchdown in the NorCal Bowl Game, as he ripped off a 93-yard kickoff return to answer Paule’s ice-breaking touchdown in the first quarter. James McHugh kept the Huskies in it with 24- and 23-yard field goals.

Sierra’s defense was especially clutch in the fourth quarter. The offense fumbled on its own 17-yard line, but Sutter’s attack was pushed backwards for 8 yards on three plays. McHugh missed what would have been the go-ahead field goal for the Huskies, allowing Vicente and the Timberwolves’ spread offense to mount the game-winning drive capped by Marcos Castillo’s 26-yard field goal with 2:53 remaining. Sierra’s defense tightened up again, as the offensive unit wore out the final 1:11.

The Timberwolves haven’t trailed at any point in the postseason after their playoff chances looked bleak in their regular-season finale against Weston Ranch, which held a 27-13 halftime lead. The last touchdown the defense gave up was with 5:45 to go in Sierra’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal at Calaveras. That was followed up by an impressive 42-0 drubbing of Liberty Ranch in the team’s first-ever section final. Sierra allowed just 205 yards and forced five turnovers, scoring on two of the takeaways against Liberty Ranch.

“We are peaking right now as a team,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said following the NorCal Bowl win. “All three parts of the game are peaking, and let’s roll that into next week.”

The defense gets another tough assignment Saturday in Chowchilla, which rolled past Los Angeles City Section champion Fairfax 28-16 in the SoCal Division IV-A Bowl. The Central Section’s Division IV titlist rambled for 356 rushing yards with three ball carriers each going for 89 or more.