Sierra’s 21 seniors have come a long way to get to this point, and they’re guaranteed at least one more week of practice together after the No. 4-seeded Timberwolves walloped injury-ravaged Golden Valley 61-15 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV postseason opener Friday.
They’ll face another Central California Conference team in the quarterfinals next week with No. 5 Atwater — a 50-26 winner over No. 12 Kimball — visiting Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
The senior class relishes the opportunity to host another playoff game. These players had just one win at the sophomore level and were proud just to make a postseason appearance last year.
“It feels amazing to go to a level we had never been to,” Sierra offensive lineman/linebacker Holden Fishburn said. “Everybody here fully believed we could, our coaches believed in us and we believed in each other. There was no doubt that we could come in here and do what we did tonight.”
And they left no doubt in the one-sided affair.
Sierra (8-3) dominated the opening half for a 35-0 lead at the break, and the running clock was implemented after Christian Threadgill’s 14-yard interception return widened the gap to 54-0 with 7:25 left in the third quarter.
The 13th-seeded Cougars (4-7) of Merced scored two cosmetic touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Sierra’s reserves.
“They came out ready to play,” third-year Sierra coach Chris Johnson said. “They were ready to play all week. It was a good week of practice and we talked about coming out, being physical and doing what we do. This is probably as complete a game as we’ve been able to put together this year.
“They were banged up, let’s be honest, but I don’t know if that would have made a difference tonight.”
Golden Valley struggled with injuries all season and had several of its top players out for Friday’s contest, most notably sophomore running back Jabari Phillips. Twin brother Jamarcus Phillips — an offensive lineman — served as his replacement in the backfield, finishing with 36 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Jabari scampered for 1,601 yards and 21 touchdowns in only eight games this season.
Sierra’s own standout back, second-year junior Kimoni Stanley, had his way with the Cougars defense. He had touchdown runs covering 65 and 63 yards in which he went untouched on his way to the end zone. Stanley nearly hit the 200-yard mark by halftime and watched most of the final two quarters with 197 yards on 14 attempts.
“My offensive line does a great job and they continue to amaze me,” he said. “I know they’re going to open up those holes for me.”
He wasn’t the only star to shine for Sierra.
Slotback/linebacker Matt Dunham contributed touchdown runs of 35 and 52 yards to go with a 48-yard pick-six. Quarterback/safety Shane Johnson had two scoring scampers, including a 60-yard read-option keeper, and recovered a fumble on one of four turnovers forced by the defense.
Threadgill collected three quarterback sacks in the first half, and he showed off his athletic prowess on the aforementioned pick-off return. In the face of a pass rush spearheaded by Threadgill, Golden Valley quarterback Jonathan Peredia (11 of 17, 122 yards) tried to lob a screen pass over the 6-foot-4 defensive end. Threadgill leaped straight up and snatched it cleanly before taking it to the house.
Fishburn shared a sack with Josh Valdez and caused the fumble recovered by Shane Johnson. Jessie Davis Jr. capped the turnover barrage with an interception midway through third quarter. Even placekicker Jordan Shinn had a highlight, keeping Golden Valley scoreless in the first half with a touchdown-saving tackle as Zack Fernandez settled for a 74-yard kickoff return. The Cougars turned it over on downs at the Sierra 14.
Back-up running back Henry Palacios scored the Timberwolves’ final touchdown with a 43-yard jaunt on the final play from scrimmage in the third period.
“(Stanley) gets a lot of attention, but from Day 1 these kis have bought into the idea of a being a complete football team,” coach Johnson said. “Obviously, Kimoni is a special kid, but you we can throw in someone like Matt Dunham into the mix. We have unsung heroes on both sides of the ball.”
Golden Valley 0 0 0 15 — 15
Sierra 15 20 26 0 — 61
S—Kimoni Staney 65 run (Matt Dunham run), 9:01.
S—Matt Dunham 35 run (Jordan Shinn kick), 5:11.
S—Dunham 48 interception (Shinn kick), 9:45.
S—Stanley 63 run (kick missed), 4:28.
S—Shane Johnson 1 run (Shinn kick), 1:23.
S—Johnson 60 run (kick missed), 11:41.
S—Dunham 52 run (Shinn kick), 8:26.
S—Christian Threadgill 14 interception (kick missed), 7:25.
S—Henry Palacios 43 run (Shinn kick), 1;09.
G—Alexis Granados 12 run (Eliud Inzunza kick), 6:22.
G—Jamarcus Phillips 1 run (Jaret Mello kick), 1:28.