An interception to close out the first half and two fumble recoveries that led to touchdowns in the third quarter opened the game up for Sierra on Friday night in a 34-7 Valley Oak League win over host East Union at Dino Cunial field.
“Turnovers,” Timberwolves coach Chris Johnson said. “We were victimized by them in our last game in Oakdale. That is the No. 1 stat in football. It makes all the difference in the world — it swings momentum, gives you a short field and when you are able to capitalize on it and it can be the difference in the game. All of a sudden it goes from a tight game to being blown open.
“We just ran our stuff tonight and came right at them. Coach (Willie) Herrera does a great job over there and he has some really good players, but after the last couple of weeks we had a lot of stuff we needed to work on and a lot of stuff we needed to clean up and we had enough success that we were able to do that and get the win.”
Matt Dunham’s interception for Sierra (2-2 VOL, 6-2 overall) late in the first half turned into a squandered opportunity as the Timberwolves notched 25 yards in penalties on the next two plays. They finished with 10 penalties overall.
That was not the case in the second half.
After yet another crack-back block penalty, Sierra was forced to punt on the opening possession of the third quarter only for the Lancers (0-4, 3-5) to muff the punt, allowing Jessie Davies Jr. to recover the ball on the East Union 23-yard line. A holding penalty two plays later set the Timberwolves back a bit, but this time Sierra overcame its mistake and with a 1-yard scoring plunge by Kimoni Stanley to make the score 20-7.
The big play of that drive was a 22-yard Hail Mary throw from Shane Johnson to Nyco Mendoza on fourth down, getting the ball to the 1 for Stanley’s plunge with 5:33 left in the third period.
The Lancers fumbled on their next play from scrimmage, with Davies Jr. there to fall on the ball again, this time on the East Union 28. Three plays later Stanley bulled in a touchdown from 5 yards out and for the second time in less than two minutes the Timberwolves had taken advantage of a short porch and put the game away.
“What was rough for us was that first drive coming back from the half,” Lancers coach Willie Herrera said. “It’s tough to stop them three drives in a row. We had them stopped, we had them punt and we got an unlucky bounce and it hit our guy, giving them an easy score after we stopped them and they went for it on fourth down, coming up with the ball on the 1-yard line.
“And then we got it back and we fumbled it. So that series right there, that was the turning point. We needed to get back quick, we needed to get a score or two real quick to get back in it and it just didn't go our way.”
Stanley finished with 137 yards on 17 carries with additional touchdown runs of 2 and 22 yards. He had in excess of 100 yards called back due to penalties.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the first quarter and the second quarter,” Stanley said. “At halftime we talked about it and we fixed out stuff and came out and got back to the way we normally play.”
Sierra held East Union to 201 yards of total offense with Christian Threadgill tallying eight tackles for the Timberwolves.
“It came down to us playing defense,” Threadgill said. “We made their quarterback stay in the pocket.
“We did a great job of putting the pressure on their offense.”
Mendoza (five tackles) put the exclamation point on the Sierra defensive effort with an interception in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense was great,” Mendoza said. “We watched a lot of film. I knew they were going to do drag routes, I was able to follow the quarterback’s eyes and get the interception.”
Johnson added four tackles for Sierra and Davies Jr. had three.
Late in the second quarter before Dunham’s interception, the Lancers forced a turnover with Lane Cefalu applying pressure in the Timberwolves backfield, allowing Jonathan Castaneda to swoop in for an interception.
“I thought we were extremely physical,” Herrera said. “We forced a turnover and I hoped we could have turned that into some more points but it didn't work out that way.
“This game had nothing to do with lack of preparation and there was no lack of wanting. We were prepared and they were ready. Sometimes, the ball bounces funny ways and we wish we could play it over, but we can't. We played extremely hard and congratulations to Sierra, they played hard as well.”
With 1:29 remaining in the opening period Shane Johnson scored on an 8-yard run for the Timberwolves for a 14-0 lead. East Union responded with its lone scoring drive of the night, marching 72 yards on nine plays capped by a 24-yard scoring pass from Eric Morales (5 of 7 passing, 59 yards; five carries, 89 yards) to Zelmar Vedder (four catches, 45 yards).
Cristian Perez and Ryland Toves led the Lancers with five tackles apiece.
It was the 25th meeting between the rivals. Sierra extended its series lead to 19-6.
Sierra 14 0 13 7 — 34
East Union 0 7 0 0 — 7
S — Kimoni Stanley 22 run (Jordan Shinn kick), 8:49
S — Shane Johnson 8 run (Shinn kick), 1:29
E — Zelmar Vedder 24 yard pass from Eric Morales (Cameron Torres kick), 8:50
S — Stanley 1 run (run fail), 5:33
S — Stanley 5 run (Shinn kick), 3:52
S — Stanley 2 run (Shinn kick), 5:30