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Patterson nearly fumbles away victory against Sierra
Timberwolves miss out on opportunity to clinch third D-III upset
Sierra High quarterback Adrian Valencia breaks away from Patterson linebacker Joey Powers during Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff game at Patterson Community Stadium. - photo by Photo by WAYNE THALLANDER
PATTERSON — Lady Luck sided with Patterson High when the Tigers needed her most in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-III postseason opener Friday at Patterson Community Stadium.

“Yeah. Finally,” Patterson head coach Rob Cozart said after his second-seeded team avoided a major upset against Sierra, 49-45.

Patterson (10-1) fumbled eight times and lost four, one of them a high snap that Sierra’s Jesus Alvarado recovered on the Tigers’ 3-yard line on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.

After leading 21-20 at halftime, Patterson suddenly found itself trailing 39-21 with 7:46 to go in the third quarter.

But the Tigers scored 21 unanswered points with standout quarterback Cody Weinzheimer — who was sensational despite not having his top receivers, Rodney Lawson and Nick Ward, to throw to — spearheading the charge.

Weinzheimer (17-of-28, 242 yards) threw for four touchdowns and rushed in another.

On the game’s deciding play, Patterson running back George Garcia appeared to be on his way to punching in the touchdown in conventional fashion from 17 yards out, but the ball was jarred loose as he got to the 5 and skipped deep into the end zone.

Sierra’s Austin Acker was one of the first ones to get to it. During the scrum it was Garcia himself who came up with the ball, giving Patterson its final lead with 2:05 remaining.

“If you’re persistent enough you’re going to get the big break,” Cozart said. “But when you put the ball on the ground like that you’re not going to win games. Hopefully it’s a wake-up call for us.”

Senior quarterback Adrian Valencia (18-of-30, 315 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs; rushing TD) led Sierra down to the Patterson 42 on the Timberwolves’ last series. A false start moved the ball back 5 yards, and the Timberwolves (6-5) were faced with a fourth-and-11 with 36 seconds left.

Valencia’s desperation pass didn’t have a chance as he was hit while releasing the ball. Patterson lineman Caleb Martinez got in front of the screen toss at the 44, and that was how the wild shootout ended.

Patterson next squares off with No. 7 Yuba City, a 35-28 winner over Lincoln of Placer County.

“I knew we could do it, it just didn’t happened the way we wanted it to,” said Sierra’s teary-eyed senior signal caller.

Still, Valencia and the rest of the Timberwolves proved they were a force to be reckoned with. Seedings and records aside, Cozart knew what his team was getting into.

“These guys are not a 15 seed,” he said. “They’re a much better team than (their record) 6-4. Holy moly, they’re a good football team.”

Following the botched snap on the opening play from scrimmage in the first half, Aaron Manuta (8 rushes, 37 yards, 2 TDs) scored from 3 yards out to catapult Sierra into the lead, 27-21, for the first time since the first quarter.

Patterson again fumbled the ball, recovered by lineman Rico Roberts, on the first play of its next drive, and Sierra sophomore Anthony Cota (11 rushes, 62 yards) rushed in a 10-yard touchdown to make it 33-21.

Roberts recovered another fumble in the second quarter, as did Bret Wilson.

The momentum continued to shift in Sierra’s favor after the defense held for three plays to force a punt.

Moments later, on third-and-11 from the Sierra 11, Valencia hit Ruben Lopez (6 catches, 168 yards, 2 TDs) on a screen that culminated into an 89-yard touchdown play.

Now ahead 39-21 midway through the third, Sierra was in the driver’s seat to post one of three Division-III stunners. Top-seeded rival Manteca was upset 55-22 by No. 16 Vanden, while No. 3 Pioneer fell to No. 14 Whitney, 27-23.

“I was not comfortable with that lead and that much time left on the clock,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “We can’t take a team like Patterson for granted. We continued the same play calling (offensively) and made some adjustments defensively, unfortunately they didn’t quite work out tonight.”

Despite winning the turnover battle 4-2, one early giveaway — a 35-yard interception return by Patterson linebacker Cesar Gomez — proved costly.
The other one hurt just as badly: a fumble by Cota early in the fourth quarter that was turned into a Patterson touchdown pass spanning 13 yards to Kendrick Totter (8 receptions, 107 yards, 2 TDs).  That gave Patterson the 42-39 advantage with 7:52 remaining.

Sierra’s quick-striking offense countered just four plays later, as Grant Widmer hauled in a 41-yard toss from Valencia in the end zone.

“We had the opportunities, we just didn’t capitalize on all of them,” Harbison said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our kids, though; with the way they came out and fought against guys who are much bigger and faster than us.

“These kids fought for four quarters down to the end, and I couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”

The playoff appearance was Sierra’s third-ever in school history, and they’ve all come in succession. The Timberwolves needed to win their final four regular-season contests to qualify.