The persistent rain and swampy field conditions at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium did no favors for the home team Saturday when Sierra battled Rancho Cotate in the CIF State Division III-A Northern California Regional Bowl Game.
Ball handling was an issue for both teams, especially for Sierra's triple-option offense that had five turnovers — including lost fumbles on three straight touches in the third quarter — and came up empty-handed on two trips inside the Rancho 10-yard line.
The result was a 10-0 loss, ending an otherwise outstanding season for Timberwolves (11-4).
“You can't discount anything that has happened with this team, the wonderful ride that they've had and been on,” Sierra coach Chris Johnson said. The school's third-year head coach led the T'wolves to their second Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship last week with a thrilling 22-19 revenge win over Valley Oak League rival Oakdale.
“I think they way overachieved,” Johnson added. “Nobody ever gave us any credit to be playing here right now.”
Rancho Cotate (11-3), meanwhile, gets to face Bakersfield Christian (11-3) next Saturday, Dec. 14 at home for a state title. Bakersfield Christian rolled past Sunny Hills (12-3) of Fullerton, 42-21.
The Cougars of Rohnert Park also had their struggles Saturday, evidenced by their three lost fumbles, but handled the conditions better than the host squad.
Aided by holder Jordan Broderick, Alex Sandoval managed to hit a 37-yard field goal with 9.3 seconds left in the first half, eliciting a well-earned celebration at the end of the 14-play drive.
Then in the third quarter, Jared Stocker scored the lone touchdown on a 2-yard quarterback keeper and was followed by another textbook kick from Sandoval. The TD scamper was set up by Rasheed Rankin's 38-yard run. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound power back finished with 90 yards on 22 carries, accounting for about half of his team's 173 yards of offense.
“We knew it was going to be bad, so we practiced at our local park all week,” Rancho coach Gehrig Hotaling said. “The city lent us the park and we totally destroyed that thing. We've basically been practicing in these elements all week and I think it helped us a little bit.
“We did fumble a few times but we generated offense when we needed to, and our defense played unbelievable. Two shutouts in a row — I'm speechless.”
The Cougars also blanked top-seeded Las Lomas 7-0 in the North Coast Section Division III title game on Nov. 29.
Sierra was held to 148 yards and led by new single-season rushing king Kimoni Stanley, who ground out 88 yards on 13 attempts. The second-year junior came into the contest tied with Mark Paule's 2014 mark of 2,024 yards.
The Timberwolves could not gain traction in the first half, totaling just 25 yards of offense while not coming up with a single first down. Neither team could get their passing games going, completing one attempt apiece while attempting nine combined.
“A game like this is going to come down to who has the lucky bounce at the right time and the ball bounced their way tonight,” Johnson said. “No discredit to them, that's a powerful football team. They're big, strong kids and they're well coached. They're in the right spots and their defense is very good. We knew that coming in.”
The Timberwolves were unlucky on the defensive end during back-to-back drives in the second quarter. On one play, Rankin dropped what appeared to be a lateral pass from Stocker. Sierra linebacker Matt Dunham scooped it up at the Timberwolves' 19-yard line and was on his way to the end zone before the whistles blew the play dead because it was ruled an incomplete forward pass.
And on the long scoring drive of the half, Stocker drew a roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-and-15 incompletion and found a way not to turn the ball over despite mishandled snaps and handoffs.
All things considered, Sierra's defense did its part.
“Our defense has been tremendous all year long,” Johnson said. “Tonight, they gave us an opportunity.”
The offense missed its golden opportunities in crazy second half in which the two teams combined for six turnovers in eight possessions.
On its second series of the third quarter Sierra got the spark it needed with Stanley's 58-yard sprint down the right sideline and to the Rancho 5. He was helped by a big downfield block from receiver Melvyn Ceja.
The avalanche of turnovers began on the next play, however, as the Timberwolves fumbled it away on the snap.
“You can't fumble,” Johnson said. “There's the story of the game right there. You can blame it on the weather, but at the end of the day we had our chances to do it and we fumbled it away.”
Sierra had one last chance to get on the scoreboard.
After Josh Valdez's second fumble recovery of the night, quarterback Shane Johnson gained 21 yards on an option keeper, and fourth-down pass interference and offside penalties put the Timberwolves on the Rancho 9.
Sierra opted to go for it on fourth-and-sixth but was pushed back by a false-start infraction. Jordan Shinn was sent in to try a 31-yard field goal from nearly the same spot Sandoval drilled his for Rancho Cotate, but at this point in the game the field was an even muddier mess. Shinn's attempt was short.
“It was bad, man,” Dunham said of the conditions. “I'd get tackled and my feet would sink about a foot into the ground. The ball was all wet, my hands and forearms had mud on them — it was hard to hold that rock.
“Even though we were out here sliding and everything, other than the outcome, it was probably the most fun I've had all year.”
Rancho Cotate 0 3 7 0 — 10
Sierra 0 0 0 0 — 0
R—Alex Sandoval 37 field goal, 0:09.3
R—Jared Stocker 2 run (Sandoval kick), 3:19.