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No. 2 Sierra better against the Spread
Defense a strength in Timberwolves pursuit of banner
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By now, the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoff brackets have been dissected and analyzed by anyone with a rooting interest or a job to do.

The go-getters didn’t wait until the section released its pairings across six divisions on Saturday evening. They started studying win totals, enrollments and strength of schedule in hopes of deciphering the 72 playoff teams.

And then there are the diehards, those like Sierra High football coach Jeff Harbison, who built not just one Division III bracket – but two.

If you thought Harbison celebrated his second Valley Oak League championship with a weekend reprieve from football, you were sadly mistaken.

The ninth-year coach was up bright and early Saturday morning, scribbling potential matchups on paper. 

“I’m a stressor, so Saturday morning I started putting together different scenarios of who we may play,” Harbison said. “It’s something I enjoy doing. I put together what our bracket could and probably should be.”

No matter which way he drew it up, one thing was abundantly clear: Division III would be tough sledding for the Timberwolves – and any team, for that matter.

The gauntlet begins on Friday for second-ranked Sierra (9-1), which will host No. 15 Rosemont.

“Naturally, we’re excited to be here,” Harbison said.

But what about that 16-team bracket, coach?

“D-III is a pretty difficult bracket on both sides,” he said. “(No. 1) Inderkum is just fantastic. Up north, all the talk was about (No. 10) Rio Linda and running back Marcel Brown but look what (Inderkum) did to them. D-III is very tough.

“I think we’ve shown that we can play football,” he later added, “and that leaves us with confidence in our players, knowing that they can beat some of the best.”

It starts with Rosemont (6-4), the Sierra Valley Conference runner-up.

The two have playoff history. In 2012, the Timberwolves ousted the Wolverines with a 28-8 victory in the first round. Though the players on both sides have changed, Harbison believes familiarity with a program has helped preparation this week.

“It helps to know what kind of play calls they’ll make versus four-man fronts and odd-man fronts,” Harbison said.

The Wolverines’ spread offense is a concern. Historically, the Timberwolves have struggled to contain the spread offense in the postseason.

Sierra was eliminated from the D-IV playoffs a year ago by strong-armed quarterback Michael Wilson and Colfax in a shootout, 42-37.

“Some would say that’s been our Achilles heel,” Harbison said.

Rosemont has some of that same explosiveness.

Buddy Enriquez is the lynchpin in the attack, a dual-threat quarterback with a big target on the perimeter.

Daniel Tveretinov had 53 catches for 870 yards and 10 touchdowns through the first nine games of the season, according to MaxPreps. During a four-game stretch late in the season, the 6-foot-1 Tveretinov averaged nine catches for 171 yards.

He’ll be matched up against full-time cornerbacks Tyler Lewis or Mateo Hernandez. Though they have just one interception between them, the two are battle-tested.

“Our two corners, Tyler and Mateo, that’s all they do is play defense,” Harbison said. “They work on technique every day in practice against some of the area’s best receivers.”

Running back Eddie Ortiz provides the balance for the Wolverines with a team-best 795 yards. Ortiz has all three of Rosemont’s 100-yard rushing games.

But it starts with Enriquez, a legacy with ties to Rosemont’s only league championship season in 2010. Though he’s small in stature, the 5-foot-7, 145-pound senior has put up big numbers. He’s thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Harbison believes Sierra has the personnel up front to disarm Rosemont’s offense. The Timberwolves had the second-best scoring defense in the Valley Oak League and can create pressure with a multitude of players.

“We’re counting on our defensive line to play good football. L.J. (Alofaituli) and Connor Melton have done a great job versus the run and the pass. We have a big run stopper in Jacob Gullett and an everything-type-of defensive end in Sean Murray. Andrew Guevara leads us in sacks,” Harbison said. “We have a good rotation and a solid nucleus of defensive linemen, who have just played lights-out for us.”