Go to any Sierra High baseball game, and you are likely to hear, “Let’s get to the next batter,” coming from the dugout. The Timberwolves football team borrowed a page from Jack Thomson’s playbook and parlayed it into a state championship.
Sierra was headed nowhere fast in week 10. Down by two scores and headed for a losing season with a two-touchdown deficit at halftime to Weston Ranch, the Timberwolves erupted for 21 unanswered second-half points and secured the last at-large playoff slot, beginning their improbable but highly successful playoff run.
I asked Sierra coach Jeff Harbison what changed at halftime of the game with the Cougars, and he said the kids started playing for the next play.
“Just play for the next play,” Harbison said after his thrilling 20-15 state championship win over Chowchilla. “That is all you can do. If you give 100 percent on the next play you are going to win that battle.
“That is what our kids did tonight.”
What the Timberwolves did in Chowchilla was nothing short of amazing.
After the Redskins scored with less than three minutes to come within a point and then powered in the two-point conversion, the Chowchilla side of the field erupted. As if things could not get any worse, a slippery field forced a stumble on the kickoff and gave Sierra the ball at its own 18-yard line with just 2:25 left in the game. Three incomplete passes later facing fourth down and 10 yards to go with the Redskins stands in bedlam, somehow Timberwolves quarterback Mark Vicente found Mark Paule Jr. for a 26-yard completion and the drive was not over yet.
Neither were the incomplete passes. Two more led to third and 10 and another 26-yard completion, this one to Jimmy Galindo and a first down at the Chowchilla 10. Then just as he did when he scored the first touchdown of the night on a 65-yard scamper, Vicente scrambled his way to the 9. Two plays later Paule Jr. pulled in what proved to be the winning touchdown pass and now it was the blue side of the field that was erupting.
Paule Jr. was appreciative of his coaches.
“First I have to start off with the coaches,” Paule Jr. said. “They prepared us for this team and we used what they said and took it onto the field. Second, it was all about our heart. We had to bring one back for our city. And you know our players, we are all family. We have each other’s back and we are here, we are state champions.”
Josh Lee played football for the first time this year, transferring over from the soccer team and helping anchor the tough Sierra defense.
“When it came down to crunch time, we had to do what we had to do,” Lee said. “Coach is always telling us to fight to the whistle, no matter what. When you find yourself in the gutter you have to pull yourself out.
“I have to thank my coaches. They are the ones that pushed us back in February when we started training for football. They are good guys – I love my team and we became family.”
Despite the help of a friendly clock keeper, the last-second heroics for the Redskins never materialized and Scott Teicheira ended the Chowchilla season when he fell on the Redskins quarterback on the last play of the game.
Back in the early days of Timberwolves football, Sierra ran the Wing-T offense and went to camps to learn the system. The guy running the camp was a walking cliché machine and one of his favorites was, “The band is playing, and it is ours.”
I was a part of the football program in those days and Greg Leland was the head coach, and on Saturday night when the final buzzer sounded Coach Leland looked to me and said, “Coach Campbell – the band is playing and it is ours!”
The blue wagon is back in the barn, the football clipboard is on the shelf, and to use one of my father’s favorite idioms, you never know from where you are sitting what the band is going to play next.
Bring on basketball season.
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