CHOWCHILLA – It was the sort of scenario every high school quarterback dreams of finding himself in.
Down by a point with less than a minute left and you’ve somehow managed to connect on two passes that put you within range of a long, game-winning field goal.
But Mark Vicente, the junior Sierra High School quarterback, wasn’t content with that.
On the next play he scampered 21 yards to get within distance of the goal-line, and then threw a pass over the middle to Mark Paule Jr. that will go down in the history books as the catch that sealed the CIF Division IV State Championship – the first time in the history of the high-school playoffs that a team from Manteca has walked off of the field hoisting a trophy in the shape of The Golden State.
It wasn’t necessary a stat heavy night for the junior.
Sure, his first touchdown – where he rolled right, tucked the ball under his arm and broke 65-yards up the Sierra sideline – is downright legendary.
But for the majority of the contest, Vicente was rushed, hurried and hit by an aggressive Redskins defense that at times completely shut down the Sierra offensive attack.
What was weightier than the numbers on paper, however, was the measure of heart that the Timberwolves – who were roundly criticized by some in the area as being “non-deserving” of their chance to make history because of their regular season record – showed when they absolutely had to make something happen to prove all of their doubters wrong.
And prove them wrong they did.
“I knew that I had to stay composed and not get too panicky when the pressure came – staying in the pocket and making the right reads to get out of bounds and stop the clock,” Vicente said. “On the touchdown, coach wanted all of the receivers to go out and have Mark go up the middle and set it up right at the goal line. It worked – it was wide open.”
While Vicente will rightfully get the glory for his gutsy, never-give-up performance, Mark Paule Jr. also pulled in a ball that seemingly nobody on the Chowchilla sideline thought would have been floated across the middle to him – especially after the same play immediately before failed – making the catch even more notable as the spread receivers of Daniel Wyatt and Jimmy Galindo drew the majority of the coverage.
Coming into Saturday’s game Paule Jr. was perched to break all of Sierra’s major rushing and touchdown records. While he may not have done that, pulling in that ball and silencing the deafening roar of the home crowd was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of play.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Paule Jr. said. “I knew that I caught it, but I didn’t know whether I was in the end zone. Was it a touchdown? I heard our fans go crazy and I knew that we had just pulled it off.”
And pulled it off they did.
In the final week of the regular season, the Timberwolves trailed Weston Ranch by two touchdowns at the half with a playoff spot on the line. Just one year after they were the lone team to hand Central Catholic – the eventual California Division IV State Champion – a loss, Sierra found itself on the verge of sitting home while more than half of the teams from their league when on to play postseason games.
But they weren’t ready to do that.
They came back to beat the Cougars in a thrilling fashion and have overcome every single obstacle that has stood in their way since.
They won a Section title.
They went on the road to Yuba City to take on Northern California powerhouse Sutter and came away victorious – the first team from Manteca ever to win a Nor-Cal football bowl.
And on Saturday they did the unthinkable when they traveled to Chowchilla – who had only lost two games all season – and hoisted the trophy off of their head in front of a capacity crowd that started filling the stadium hours before the game even began.
The improbability of it all could be seen all over the face of All-League lineman Josh Fala’s face as he opted for a quiet moment of reflection as the rest of the team pranced all over the field in celebration.
The biggest man on Sierra’s team quickly became the most reflective – taking a moment with himself to process everything that had transpired since he put on that uniform as a Timberwolf.
“Nobody thought we could do this,” he said. “We waited a long time to get this point and nobody is ever going to take this away from us.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.