When finding a word to describe the Sierra defense Friday night, many old-school phrases come to mind.
But the reality of it is that a modern buzzword sums it up best: collaboration. The Timberwolves dismantled visiting Golden Valley of Merced 61-15 to open the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.
The Timberwolves’ starters suffocated any chance of Golden Valley producing any offense, holding them to 75 yards and one first down in three quarters. Long after Coach Chris Johnson had emptied the bench with the running clock, the Cougars kept extending the game with timeouts to squeeze out a pair of meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
“We can’t say enough about the job our defense does,” Johnson said. “They have been doing a great job all year long and I don’t think they get the credit they deserve.
“It was a great all-around team effort.”
And the core of the Timberwolves defense is not made up of defensive specialists, but rather two-way standouts such as Matt Dunham, Shane Johnson and Holden Fishburn.
Dunham (five tackles, interception), starting at running back and outside linebacker, scored three touchdowns on a 48-yard interception and runs of 35 and 52 yards. He also had a pair of touchdown-springing blocks on a 63-yard touchdown run by Kimoni Stanley and a 43-yard scoring run by Henry Palacios.
Dunham returned the second-half kickoff for 39 yards, setting the table for a 60-yard scoring scamper by Johnson on the next play.
“The more dominant team is usually going to be the more aggressive team,” Dunham said. “And our defense has been aggressive all year. We have put up a fight against every team we have played this season.
“On the interception I saw the ball; I caught it and then cut back. I ran until I couldn’t run any more. I ran all the way to the track I think.”
Directing the offense at quarterback and surveying the defense as free safety, Johnson made four tackles with a fumble recovery and added a 1-yard scoring plunge to go with his 60-yard scamper.
“We have been physical all year,” Johnson said. “That has been the game plan since Day 1 — stay physical and give 100 percent and the rest will take care of itself.”
Anchoring the middle of the Sierra attack from his middle linebacker and offensive tackle positions, Fishburn (forced fumble) posted six punishing tackles.
“Our defensive tackles got in there and were rock solid,” Fishburn said. They did their jobs perfectly and I was able to go in and fill the gaps and make tackles.
“Our defensive ends Josh (Valdez) and Christian (Threadgill) got tackles and sacks too and it just worked out perfectly.”
Threadgill notched six tackles with three behind the line, but his big play came just before Johnson pulled the starters in the third quarter.
Valdez (four tackles including two sacks) put tremendous pressure on the Cougars quarterback who threw the ball in Threadgill’s direction. The 6-foot-4 junior extended completely to grab the interception and dart 14 yards for the first score of his prep career.
“I was just trying to block that pass,” Threadgill said. “But then I got it and I just ran. It felt great.
“I give it up to coach (Mike) James and coach (Nick) Hardenbrook and the way they helped me with my footing.”
Christopher Christian and Nyco Mendoza added four tackles apiece for Sierra.