There will not be a repeat Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV football champion this year.
Defending champion and third-seeded Sierra gave away two golden scoring opportunities Thursday and surrendered two long scoring plays to No. 6 Center of Antelope. The Cougars made the most of their gifts and downed the host Timberwolves 29-27 in opening-round playoff action at Daniel Teicheira Memorial Stadium.
“What it came down to was blown opportunities,” Sierra coach Jeff Harbison said. “We had the ball in the red zone and turned it over twice – once was in the end zone and the other was at the 1-yard line. You can’t do that against a team in the postseason and expect to be victorious.
“The kids had to work through some adversity this year and they showed a lot of character by coming out and playing each week and hopefully the kids can take something away from this.”
Center (8-3) when struck quickly when Robbie Donnell (26 carries, 232 yards, touchdown) took a handoff on the first play from scrimmage, got to the outside and galloped 65 yards to put the Cougars ahead 7-0.
“He has been our workhorse in the backfield,” Center coach Digol Jbeily said of Donnell.
“That is a good team – they did not have any weaknesses. We were trying to go to our strengths which are running our traps and counters and trying to get to the outside as much as we can.”
Marcos Castillo gave the home crowd something to cheer about in the second period with two touchdowns in a 30-second time span. The first came on a 1-yard plunge with 9 minutes left in the half and then with 8:36 showing on the clock Castillo returned an interception 60 yards to give the Timberwolves their only lead of the night at 20-13.
“That (interception) felt great,” Castillo said. “I was trying to change the momentum for my team. We all had a job but it just felt great to get in the end zone and help my guys out.
Mark Vicente (20 of 41 passing, 186 yards) had two touchdown passes for Sierra. Jacob Peterson (seven catches, 93 yards) pulled in a 24-yard scoring throw from Vicente in the first quarter to come within 7-6, and with 1:48 left in the game Vicente found Brandon Arreola with another 24-yard touchdown throw to narrow the game to 29-27. The Timberwolves failed to recover the ensuing onside kick and the Cougars were able to run out the clock, stopping Vicente from a chance at yet another miracle comeback.
“It was a tough year,” Vicente said. “We had a lot of players gone with injuries or just gone. Things like that hurt the team but we just have to play hard.
“We kept going until the end and it doesn’t matter if you come up with the loss or the win you have to have character.”
Jordan Black recovered a muffed punt for Sierra in the second quarter but the Timberwolves were unable to convert that turnover, turning the ball back over on downs in just four plays.