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Backup QBs go-ahead TD with 34.7 ticks left decides it
East Union defensive lineman Devon Woodall collapses the pocket and tries to get his hands on Sierra quarterback Adrian Valencia. - photo by HIME ROMERO
The big-time players made some big-time plays, but an unlikely hero emerged in Sierra High’s 30-28 heart-pumping and much-needed win over persistent East Union Friday at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.

Backup quarterback Anthony Perea engineered the Timberwolves’ game-winning drive capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Harold Wright on fourth-and-goal with 34.7 seconds remaining.

On the go-ahead play, Perea, a junior who had no previous passing attempts coming into the contest, showed impressive poise as he rolled out to his right and gunned a strike to a Wright near the front-right pylon.

“I saw my No. 1 receiver open and I just had to get it to him,” Perea said. “It’s a dream come true. I was ready for it.”

Perea said starter Adrian Valencia (9-of-14 passing, 42 yards, TD; 18 rushes, 87 yards, TD) hurt his shoulder on Sierra’s previous drive.

The deciding series was set up by sophomore Anthony Cota’s 37-yard kick return to the Lancer 49. On the second play of the drive, Perea’s pretty over-the-shoulder pass was reeled in by Grant Widmer (3 receptions, 53 yards, TD) at the 14, and the Timberwolves were awarded an additional 7 yards because of a dead-ball penalty.

Perea overthrew Ruben Lopez in the end zone then ran for a 1-yard gain. East Union had a chance to seal the victory on third down as Perea tried to force it to Widmer, but cornerback Robert Vaughn broke up the pass and nearly came up with the pick.

Sierra called a timeout to draw up its final play.

“Anthony came in and played solidly for us,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “Fortunately, he had quite a few reps in practice this week. He came out and did what we expected him to do.”

East Union (1-1 Valley Oak League, 4-1 overall) did what it expected to do by competing, but the loss, which may have been expected by many outsiders, doesn’t come with any moral victories for a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1999.

While East Union stands a chance to qualify for its first Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth in 18 years, Sierra (2-2, 2-3) desperately needed the victory to stay in the hunt after earning a share of its first-ever league championship last year.

It was Sierra’s seventh straight win over EU and 10th in 11 years, extending its all-time series lead to 11-5.

“Forget (Sierra’s) record, we faced a quality team,” EU coach Mike James said. “Tonight, they made a couple more plays than we did; give them all the credit in the world — tonight was their night.

“We wanted to show Sierra that we’re real,” James added.

East Union never led until quarterback Teejay Gordon ran in a 3-yard touchdown with 1:13 left in the contest, making it 28-24. That drive was set up by a blocked punt by Ryan Ward in Sierra territory.

Special teams has been a strength of EU’s this season with now four blocks to show for it. And Ryanh Somphithack had kickoff returns of 77, 24 and 41 yards Friday.

Another bright spot for EU Friday was Gordon, who was in on the Lancers’ three other touchdowns through the air while completing 13 of 21 attempts for 181 yards. He also rushed for 65 yards on 20 carries.

“It’s tough to come so close and not get it done,” Gordon said. “No one gave up. The Red Sea (EU’s cheering section) was behind us. We showed that we’re here to compete.”

East Union threatened to take the lead on the game’s final drive, which started on its own 38 with 29.6 seconds to go. Gordon connected for three straight completions of 12, 5 and 18 yards, and the Lancers had two shots from the Sierra 37.

With 1.9 seconds remaining, Gordon went to his left and tossed it to Vaughn (4 receptions, 96 yards, who was shoved out of bounds at the 1 as the ball sailed over him.

The East Union coaching staff lobbied for a pass-interference call, and that was how the excitement ended.

“You know, I’ll have to see it on the replay,” James said.

Cota led Sierra with 24 carries for 115 of the team’s 251 rushing yards but was kept out of the end zone. Julius Muniz, filling in for injured senior Aaron Manuta, ran it four times for 44 yards and a touchdown.

Sierra now has to gear up for another big rivalry duel, this time against undefeated Manteca across town.

East Union will play host to Weston Ranch.

“East Union is 4-1 for a reason,” Harbison said. “They never gave up tonight, and (Gordon) is a heck of an athlete. He kept them alive tonight and played some great football.

“We would have liked for it not to be so close, but we’re going to take the victory and it’s time to start preparing for Manteca.”