The tone was set before team captains met with officials Friday in a Valley Oak League clash with postseason implications at Sierra’s Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
East Union players dashed out of the north end zone with flags waving before settling in at midfield and facing the Sierra sideline and home crowd. The Lancers were flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty, their first of six 15-yard infractions.
The Timberwolves responded with a gritty effort and an emotional 16-13 win that puts them in a good position to qualify for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. They are 18-6 all-time against their intra-city rival and have won 13 of the last 14.
“Honestly, that made everybody on our team mad,” Sierra sophomore RB/LB Kimoni Stanley said. “They’ve been talking since Week 1 and we didn’t respond. We replied with our pads and we won.”
Stanley led Sierra (2-2 VOL, 4-4 overall) with 72 yards on 15 rushes and scored both of the Timberwolves’ touchdowns. The second one, covering 5 yards, pushed them ahead for good six seconds into the fourth period. Stanley later came up with a third-down sack that forced East Union to punt on the next series.
Sierra did most of its damage on the ground, churning out 194 rushing yards. Saul Contreras added 52 yards on eight attempts and was on the receiving end of the Timberwolves’ only pass completion — delivered by Tyler Kiser — that went for 22 yards.
It took an all-around effort for Sierra to pull out its biggest win of the season. Defensively, the T’wolves totaled four quarterback sacks — Mitch Cassetta and Romero Sesma had one each while Omar Maxwell and Myson Hosmer combined for the other — and forced a pair of turnovers. Carlos Tovar intercepted a pass on the East Union 26 in the final minute of the third quarter, setting up Stanley’s go-ahead score.
Joaquin Alvarez recovered a short kickoff for another turnover, and Matt Dunham blocked a point-after kick.
“To be able to come out with a ‘W’ in a game like this gives credibility to the work that they’re doing,” second-year Sierra coach Chris Johnson said. “While you’re teaching life lessons about hard work and attitude and effort and perseverance, at some point you want to win. This was a real big win for our kids and our program.”
Shane Johnson, back after sitting out a week with a concussion, split time behind center for Sierra and had 46 yards on four carries. He had an electric 37-yard scamper after spinning away from a defender near the line of scrimmage at the end of the first half. Jordan Shinn capped off the drive with a 26-yard field goal.
East Union (1-3, 2-6) led 13-9 at halftime but couldn’t get out of its own way in the final two periods. After dominating possession in the first half, they could only muster 56 yards of offense in the second while committing drive-killing penalties.
“We did everything to ourselves,” East Union coach Willie Herrera said. “We got caught too many times with 12 men on the field, holding — we just couldn’t get any momentum going. We scraped our shins, knocked out our teeth and stubbed our toes. We did everything we could to make it close.”
East Union’s final drive of the game started on its own 9 with 4:05 remaining. Eric Morales hooked up with Raylen Carter for a 33-yard gain up the middle on fourth-and-15. Carter again came through for a big catch inside the Sierra 10 two plays later, but that was negated by a holding penalty that was followed by a dead-ball unsportsmanlike penalty and player ejection.
Morales was then dropped for an 8-yard loss, and East Union was faced with a fourth-and-43 on its last offensive play. Morales’ pass attempt to Lorenzo Contreras (three receptions, 66 yards) fell incomplete.
The Lancers committed 13 penalties in all, costing them 137.5 yards.
“We had to play disciplined and we didn’t,” Herrera said. “We let our emotions get the best of us. We talked about how you have to be a man about things You can’t let outside things influence the way you play the game, and we did.”
Morales finished 9 of 16 for 163 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown to Nicco Cedolini. Leo Bonilla added a 2-yard touchdown run, but East Union was limited to 57 rushing yards.
Sebastian Ellis and Anthony Contreras each had an interception on defense, Warren McGovern forced a fumble and JoJo Espinoza recovered a fumble. Tyres Harper recovered an onside kick on the opening kickoff.
The win was especially sweet for Sierra defensive coordinator Mike James, who joined Johnson’s coaching staff this season. James was previously head coach at East Union from 2003-2010, leading the Lancers to a stunning win over then-unbeaten Manteca and their first postseason berth since 1992 in his final year.
“What a great day for Mike James to play his old school and be able to come out with the win — and he’s getting married tomorrow,” Johnson said. “What a gift for him.
“He has been a huge difference in our program. You can’t put a value on having a coach like that on your staff. Plus, he’s just a great guy. He’s got a ton of energy and the kids just love him. We are so lucky to have him, for sure.”
East Union 0 13 0 0 — 13
Sierra 0 9 0 7 — 16
S—Kimoni Stanley 15 run (kick missed), 7:55.
E—Nicco Cedolini 42 pass from Eric Morales (Jorge Ramirez kick), 6:06.
E—Leo Bonilla 2 run (kick blocked), 1:58
S—Jordan Shinn 26 field goal, 0:25.3
S—Stanley 5 run (Shinn kick), 11:54.