Confetti wafted in the air above the home bleachers and players were met with hugs and high-fives at every turn.
The scoreboard proclaimed No. 2 Sierra High the victor on Friday night by a resounding margin over No. 15 Rosemont, 69-37, but there was a chill to the postgame festivities.
The Timberwolves will host No. 10 Rio Linda, which won a 62-51 shootout with No. 7 Placer.
“Looking at that scoreboard we can definitely celebrate,” coach Jeff Harbison told his team after the game. “But I got to tell you, defensively, that’s not going to get it done next week. Defensively, that’s not going to get it done.
“We should be happy about the victory, but we shouldn’t be content with the way we played.”
In a 69-point scoring binge, there were, of course, a few bright spots for the Timberwolves (10-1).
Running back Mark Paule Jr. moved within a long gallop of the 2,000-yard mark. He scored four touchdowns en route to his sixth 200-yard game of the season. He finished with 229 yards on 30 carries and sat out most of the fourth quarter.
The junior has 1,949 yards in 11 games to go along with 43 total touchdowns.
“We had the mentality of just getting after it,” said Paule, who found the end zone on 4-, 6- and a pair of 5-yard bursts. “Block to the whistle, push hard and get me to that second level.
“I’m a little banged up. I’ll ice over the weekend and be ready by Monday.”
His success early opened up the passing game for quarterback Devin Nunez, who hooked up with Hunter Johnson for three first-half touchdowns.
At 6-foot-4, Johnson was a bear to guard for the Wolverines’ undersized defensive backs. He out-jumped Zach Lovato at the goal-line to complete a 24-yard touchdown with 3:23 left in the first quarter.
He later stretched the lead to 35-6 with a juggling catch in the back of the end zone. On that play, Johnson, a sharp-shooting small forward for the championship basketball team, again soared over the defense to corral the ball.
Nunez finished 8 of 14 for 130 yards and had a 14-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter.
Offensively, Sierra was its usual self – electric and multiple.
“Our coaches did a really good job of scouting what they were going to do, our offensive line executed and Mark ran the ball really well,” Harbison said. “Devin threw the ball where it needed to be thrown and the result is 69 points.”
It was the 37 opposite his on the scoreboard that had Harbison a bit perplexed.
Riddled with injuries in the secondary early in the game, the Timberwolves were left head-spun by Rosemont gunslinger Buddy Enriquez.
Though he stood only 5-feet, 7-inches tall, Enriquez owned the airways like a giant, dissecting Sierra’s pieced-together secondary for 449 yards and five touchdowns.
The Wolverines kept the game interesting with a pair of 60-yard touchdown receptions in the second quarter, including one on a triple reverse.
Enriquez later found receiver Christian Pridgen-Daniels alone for an 18-yard touchdown that cut Sierra’s lead to 42-24 early in the third quarter.
The Wolverines would get no closer, but there was an uneasiness about the Timberwolves, the Valley Oak League’s co-champion and a favorite to lift the Division III banner.
“There are a lot of holes that need to be filled before next week, defensively,” Harbison said. “Our defensive backs did not play a good game.”
The Timberwolves played most of the game without sophomore safety Nashon Tamiano, who injured his foot on the game’s opening drive. His replacement, Johnson, hobbled off at one point, too.
“We took Hunter out. We took Nashon out. We took (SeuSeu Alofaituli) out,” Harbison said. “So three of our four defensive backs are out, but everybody should be prepared to play and they weren’t.”
Defensive lineman Connor Melton (three sacks) believes Sierra will get back to its stingy ways as it gets healthier.
The defensive unit allowed the second fewest points in league play, and despite giving up a season-high 37 points on Friday, still rang up seven sacks and two turnovers.
“This is what the coaches preach all the time – live to play another day. We came out with victory and now we get to play another week,” said Melton, who finished with three sacks.
“… This leaves lot of room for improvement.”