SALIDA — Sierra head coach Chris Johnson gave his inexperienced team a tough first assignment for the 2018 season.
“Sometimes you’ve got to convince little cats that they’re lions,” he said Friday following his Timberwolves’ 21-3 setback to Modesto Christian at Roy Blakeley Field.
The youth was apparent against one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top small-school programs, as was their lack of the size at the line of scrimmage where MC boasts behemoths like 6-foot-3, 285-poound Landon Wright and rising NCAA Division I prospect Xavier Carlton, who stands at 6-6, 240 pounds and lines up at defensive end, tight end and wide receiver.
The Timberwolves, to their credit, did not back down from the challenge. They came through with big defensive stands to stay in the hunt until Modesto Christian put it away with Hayden Sauser’s 39-yard completion to a wide-open Mario Hernandez.
“It was something else for our first look of the season,” Sierra junior wing back/linebacker Matt Dunham. “We put up a fight against them and gave it everything.”
It wasn’t enough to overcome the sheer size and speed of the Crusaders, who suited up just 18 players for the contest. The roster got even thinner when two-way standout Isaac Schinmann (four rushes, 22 yards) went down with a leg injury midway through the third quarter.
There was still no slowing down the 2017 SJS Division VI finalists, who outgained the Timberwolves, 425-155. Sauser completed 8 of 13 passes for 193 and two touchdowns. He hit Jose Hernandez for a 73-yard touchdown on the first play of Modesto Christian’s second drive of the game.
Hernandez (67 yards rushing, 78 receiving) struck again with a 7-yard run late in the second quarter to double the lead.
Sierra took advantage of a short field to start the second half after Modesto Christian was flagged for illegal procedure and catch interference as it attempted an onside kick. Sophomore Jordan Shinn later converted a 21-yard field goal for the Timberwolves’ only points.
Sierra built on that momentum on the next series, as Elijah White dropped Jayconiah Nglam for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-short in the red zone. On the previous play, Dunham broke up a pass intended for the towering Carlton inside the 5.
The offense could not capitalize on the rest its second-half opportunities, however. The Timberwolves’ final two drives were thwarted by interceptions from Johnny Williams — one in the end zone, and the other on the Crusaders 20.
“It’s just a matter of experience,” Johnson said, adding that eight juniors and one sophomore start on the offense. “Just being in those situations more, and getting the ball in the hands of players who can make plays. We’re young, but we have some good players. We’re still growing up together as a football team.”
Sophomore tailback Kimoni Stanley paced the attack with 57 yards on 12 carries. Shane Johnson was 4 of 14 for 54 yards and rushed for 27 yards.
“That scoreboard doesn’t really define who we are,” Dunham said. “I think we gave it our all out there. There just a couple little things we have to fix on offense and defense, but I think overall we did pretty well for having mostly juniors out here.”
Sierra 0 0 3 0 — 3
MC 7 7 0 7 — 21
M—Jose Hernandez 73 pass from Hayden Sauser (Mario Hernandez kick), 4:08.
M—J. Hernandez 7 run (M. Hernandez kick), 3:26.
S—Jordan Shinn 21 field goal, 7:54.
M—M. Hernandez 39 pass from Sauser (M. Hernandez kick), 3:59.