East Union went to its placekicker to give the Lancers and their home crowd at Dino Cunial Field a spark Friday against intra-city rival and Valley Oak League contending Sierra.
Matthew Higginson’s onside kick to open the game was recovered by Eddie Daube, and he drilled a 29-yard field goal with 9:08 left in the first quarter.
“That guy has been killer at it in practice,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “It was kind of a game-time-decision to do that. We knew we were going to do it sometime during the game.
“We called it and it worked out in our favor. We started the way that we wanted to but we didn’t finish the way we wanted to.”
Sierra 37, East Union 3.
The Lancers (0-5 VOL, 1-7 overall) didn’t reach Sierra’s 30-yard line again until their final drive of the contest ended on the 17.
Sierra (4-1, 6-2) can now shift its focus on first-place Manteca, which visits the Timberwolves next week with the VOL championship on the line.
“It woke me up for sure,” Sierra safety Garrett DeVillanueva said of East Union’s opening drive. “I think we were down coming off the loss (24-17 at Oakdale) and too overconfident against East Union. We had to realize that we had to step it up, that this is a real game, too, you know?”
The Sierra defense did its part Friday, giving up just 168 yards. Victor Lopez, East Union’s bulldozing back, accounted for most of that with 132 yards on 28 rushes. The Lancers had just one pass completed for 3 yards on seven attempts.
“We just need to be more consistent (on offense),” Herrera said. “We’ll do great for eight plays and the next three, I don’t know. It’s something we’ll have to look at in the film and fix. I was happy with how we were able to move the ball, but we didn’t help out our defense the way that I was us hoping to.”
Sierra had to overcome moments of sloppy play but ultimately did what it does best out of the spread. Quarterback Jake Pruitt completed 19 of 30 for 238 yards and three touchdowns. While he missed a few open receivers, Pruitt had four on-target tosses dropped. Sierra wide outs also seemed to have trouble running routes on the slick field.
“As a passing team, our receivers cannot drop the ball and they have to run fluid routes,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “They can’t be slipping around on the ground; they have to make things happen. There are a lot of things that we have to clean up.”
Lucas Widmer (8 receptions, 138 yards) gave Sierra some breathing room with his two touchdown catches. Pruitt hit him for an 11-yard score that expanded Sierra’s early lead to 17-3 late in the first half. They connected again for a 33-yard strike on the Timberwolves’ opening drive of the second half, making it 24-3.
Pruitt earlier hooked up with Devin Nunez (6 catches, 54 yards) for their first points on a 16-yard TD.
Reid Maestas (12 rushes, 64 yards) and Jonathan Montoya (9 rushes, 40 yards) plowed in for short second-half scores that put the game well out of reach.
With Oakdale losing a stunner to Kimball, 35-14, on Friday, it essentially comes down to Manteca and Sierra for the league title.
“It puts us in the same situation,” Harbison said. “If we want to look at a VOL title we have to beat Manteca — plain and simple.”