Down but not out.
After being held to minus-35 yards second-half and losing a 21-point halftime lead to host Manteca, Sierra found a way to pick itself up off the canvas and deliver a knockout punch to the Buffaloes and claim the Valley Oak League freshman football championship with a thrilling 28-24 come-from-behind win at Guss Schmiedt Field.
After being rag-dolled by Manteca (4-1 VOL, 7-2 overall) on nearly every play after the second-half kickoff, the Timberwolves (6-0, 8-1) found themselves with the ball on their own 38-yard line with 3:09 showing on the fourth-quarter clock.
Enter Marcos Castillo.
With a touchdown and 45 yards in the first half, Castillo had been neutralized in the second half, forced to leave the game with a leg injury. Castillo took the ball around the right end, shook two tacklers and darted up the home-team sidelines for what proved to be the game- and league-winning touchdown on a 62-yard run with 2:58 left in the game.
Following an abysmal effort for most of the second half, the Sierra defense line returned to life after Castillo’s heroic run with Tyler Fitch, Darin Gusters and Dilpreet Singh shutting down any chance of a Buffaloes comeback. Singh had a fourth-down quarterback sack with 1:38 left to turn the ball back over to the Timberwolves.
As dominant as Manteca was in the second half, Sierra was in the first. Quarterback Brandon Arreolo scored on runs of 5 and 11 yards in the first quarter and Castillo from a yard out in the second with the Timberwolves running 24 offensive plays to just eight for Manteca.
Sierra coach Justin Muschott had nothing but praise for his team and the long journey they started on last summer.
“I am so proud of these guys,” Muschott said. “The VOL was a grind this year and they rose to the occasion and got it done each week.
“This is a great group of young men and they put in the work every practice since the summer. They bought in and did everything that was asked of them. They earned this championship.”
The Buffaloes found the air game in the second half, with Gerson Gomez spotting James Thomas on touchdown throws of 3 and 7 yards and Thomas busting off a 34-yard touchdown gallop with 4:09 left in the game. Eddie Santos powered in three conversion runs to help Manteca build a 24-21 lead.
Arreola and Fitch each had a fumble recovery and the Buffaloes blocked a field-goal attempt late in the first half.
Thanks to his long touchdown run Castillo ended up with 110 yards on 10 carries and Arreola was 4 of 7 for 46 yards with 11 carries for 82 yards.
Gomez was 6 of 7 for 54 yards.