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Big crowd, fireworks expected for Sierras opener at Tracy
Sierra quarterback Jake Pruitt gets to the edge as Tracy defenders approach in last years zero-week contest at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Sierra’s 2013 opener is more than a game for zero-week opponent Tracy High.

It’s an event.

And the Timberwolves will have more than just a team hauling heavy expectations to contend with. A capacity crowd of 4,000-plus is expected for tonight’s anticipated duel between former Valley Oak League foes, as Tracy fans young and old pack into the new Wayne Schneider Stadium.

It will mark the first time since Nov. 4, 2011 that the Bulldogs got to host a game on their own campus, and they will again recognize the legendary coach whom the stadium is named after. The old stadium was named in Coach Schneider’s honor in 2008.

Sierra is up against a very good team, its fans and tradition.

Oh, and a halftime fireworks display.

“We’re taking it as business as usual,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “It’s the first game of the year, so of course there will be first-game jitters for both teams. Sure, Tracy will be fired up with the festivities. Our players will just have to play football and not get caught up with the emotions.”

Anchored by a talented junior class and several battle-hardened seniors, the 2013 Bulldogs could be one of the best groups Tracy has had since the Schneider era — and that’s saying something with the 2009 team going 11-1 with a San Joaquin Athletic Association title.

Tracy was the SJAA runner-up a year ago and finished 7-4 after dropping two straight to start the season. Aside from its 32-26 zero-week defeat at Sierra, Tracy lost to Franklin of Elk Grove 33-0 in Week 1, SJAA foe Lincoln 62-32 and powerhouse St. Mary’s 34-6 in first round of the playoffs.

No cupcakes there.

The 2012 sophomore team scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to upend Sierra 14-13 and went on to claim the SJAA crown and a 9-1 record — and that was with two of its top skill players competing for the varsity. Josh Clark (6-1, 180) was Tracy’s leading receiver with 25 catches, 323 yards and a TD and also had a team-high four interceptions on defense. Jason Nelson was all-SJAA honorable mention after registering 305 yards and three TDs rushing, and 274 yards and two TDs receiving.

Damon Stroup — son of former Tracy QB Mark Stroup, the head coach of the 2009 squad — quarterbacks a deceptive triple-option offense that is as physical as it is fast. SJAA co-MVP Bruce Russel (1,194 yards, 13 TDs) will be replaced by Chaz Briggs (6-0, 215) at fullback. Briggs is also a returning all-SJAA first-team linebacker along with Chris Mahar and George Obinna (6-2, 230). Defensive back Luke Pulliam also made the all-SJAA first team.

Linemen Alex Warner (6-3, 221) and Clayton Fegett (5-11, 283) and WR/DB Anthony Nunez are third-year starters.

“They have a solid fullback that is good sized, some shifty wings, speedy receivers and a quarterback that is accurate with the ball,” Harbison said. “They gave Oakdale all they could handle in their scrimmage last week.”

Tracy will have its share of challenges. Sierra’s no-huddle spread gave the Bulldogs problems with RB Anthony Cota (181 yards, 2 TDs) doing most of the damage.

With Cota graduated, Jake Pruitt and the Timberwolves intend to air it out more in the rematch. Pruitt shared snaps behind center in last year’s contest, completing 7 of 12 passes for 66 yards and an interception. The 6-foot-3 senior has vastly improved since, as Sierra puts the offense on his back and its deep receiving corps.

Playing hostile territory should provide Sierra a good glimpse of what’s ahead. Two of its biggest league games will be on the road, and no schools have home-field advantage in the VOL quite like Sonora and reigning champion Oakdale.

“We picked up this game last year because it’s good preparation for Sonora, who runs a similar offense,” Harbison said. “It’s good for our players to experience the large-crowd atmosphere and all the hoopla early, because that’s what they will experience in league. Oakdale and Sonora are always going to have large crowds and a playoff-type atmosphere. This is preparing us for those weeks.”