TRACY – It took less than four minutes Friday night to see the game plan of both the Sierra Timberwolves and the host Kimball Jaguars unfold.
For Sierra it was a heavy dose of tailback Anthony Cota, who reeled off a 19-yard run before finding the end zone from 20 yards out on the very next play.
Kimball on the other hand relied on the strong arm and quick feet of senior quarterback Zack Johnson, who floated in a 42-yard touchdown pass on the Jaguars’ first drive to answer Sierra’s quick score and prove that they weren’t going to be pushed around on their own field – let alone during Homecoming.
But it was the crisp play of Sierra – which didn’t turn the ball over, capitalized on the mistakes made by its Valley Oak League opponent and snagged an unexpected onside kick – that would ultimately provide the much needed boost in the 58-45 shootout victory at Don Nicholson Stadium.
“That was huge for us tonight. We were able to steal a couple from them and get that onside kick and they each turned out to be bigger than expected,” said Sierra head coach Jeff Harbison. “We talk about not making mistakes and when we sent Guillermo (Nunez) in tonight we told him to keep two hands on the ball. The last thing that we wanted to do was turn the ball over, and the guys did a great job with that.”
The yards, however, didn’t come easy for Cota during the game’s first half.
Knowing that the Timberwolves (6-1, 3-1 VOL) were going to give their workhorse back plenty of touches, Kimball (2-5, 1-3 VOL) keyed in on him out of the backfield after the game’s first series and essentially took the threat of the long run away.
And like any good team, Sierra made adjustments.
While quarterback Jake Pruitt had been creating success from the pocket, Sierra turned to Nunez and a pistol-style approach that was immediately successful – using Cota as a decoy and allowing the shifty quarterback to slice upfield for big gains.
It was then that Cota began to get the breathing room that he needed at the line of scrimmage to manufacture the yardage that has been his trademark all season – dashing his way into the end zone four more times out of the backfield in addition to a hook-and-lateral that he took 80-yards up the home sideline for a highlight-reel score.
He finished the night with 216 yards rushing and five touchdowns – tacking on an additional 100 receiving yards with a touchdown through the air for good measure.
“After we switched things up there was a time when we were springing everything,” Cota said. “We were moving so well as a team. The line blocked great and the wideouts were blocking down field and we ended up getting first downs on almost every play. It was a great win for us tonight.”
Sierra controlled the game midway through the third quarter, but Johnson – who had been finding receivers both underneath and downfield all night – gave the Jaguars the puncher’s chance they needed well into the fourth quarter.
Once the Timberwolves started substituting on defense, Johnson hit a receiver on a 25-yard touchdown strike that narrowed the gap, and after forcing a three-and-out, Kimball got the ball back and shocked the crowd when what appeared to be a possession reception by Even Owens turned into an 83-yard touchdown.
Johnson finished 14-of-26 passing for 358 yards, 4 touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He also ran for a touchdown and racked up 151 yards on 14 carries.
An attempt at an onside kick failed, and Sierra ran out the clock.
“Our offensive coaches saw something out there tonight that they exploited,” Harbison said of the offensive explosion that allowed them to weather Kimball’s last ditch heroics. “We were doing a good job and needed something extra and that turned out to be it.”