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Defensive backfield shines vs. air attack
Anthony Hall led Sierra’s defensive backfield with two interceptions and three pass deflections. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Offense might win games, but it was defense that allowed Sierra to hold off a prolific Benicia passing attack that was unlike anything the team has seen so far this year.

With Panther quarterback Andrew McNeece targeting two receivers that both topped the 1,000-yard mark, Sierra – and primarily the defensive backfield – had to rearrange its game plan to figure out how to stop such a high-power offense that wasted no time in showing that they were there to pass.

The receiving threat of duo Cory Fisher and Chris Mamon might have been intimidating, but it didn’t stop Sierra head coach Jeff Harbison from turning to his coaching staff on Thursday to make a major shift in strategy by placing strong safety Jarrod Daniels on the line to cover Mamon, and having Anthony Hall, a free safety, shadow Fisher for the entire contest.

The move paid off, with Hall snagging two key interceptions to break up Benicia drives, and Daniels making the game-shifting pick that allowed Sierra to run out the clock and secure a 40-39 victory – sending the Timberwolves to the third round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs for the first time in school history.

“We knew that they liked to pass, and they were one of those teams that likes the chuck-and-duck and we had to figure out how to stop that,” Harbison said. “I told the coaches that we had to do something, and we decided to put Jarrod and Anthony up on the line to see which team had the best athletes.

“At the end of the night we ended up with three picks and the victory. I think we’ll take that.”

While Daniels was brilliant offensively – racking up 288 yards on 26 carries with four touchdowns – he also managed to get back out on defense, even after reeling off a pair of runs that both went for more than 70 yards and ended up leading to early scores.

Benicia targeted Daniels specifically because they figured he was tired from the previous drive, but he still managed to hold Mamon to only four catches in the first half while proving that he wasn’t the guy to pick on.

“I knew when they threw my way the first time after I had that big run that they’d try to do it again. We watched a lot of film this week to get ready for these guys, and I think that really paid off,” Daniels said. “We moved the ball so well as an offense but I knew that was only half of the game. We still had to stop them from scoring.”

He wasn’t alone in realizing that the game basically came down to preventing the big play.

On top of sending several kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, Hall locked down Fisher and prevented him from catching a pass throughout the first half. He also pulled down an interception in the second quarter, and another near the start of the fourth – teaming up with Moses Cordova, who was playing at free safety to keep the threat contained.

“All week we watched film and practiced and we knew that they were going to come out and throw the ball,” Hall said. “We had to play tough football, and when they tried to go for it we had to step up and shut it down.”

And Cordova managed to make his own statement from the defensive backfield – using his shoulder pads to accentuate the message.

Twice in late-game drives he was in on big hits that broke up passes that kept the Panthers from marching. With just over a minute left in the third quarter he delivered a massive hit after Cameron Johnson pulled in what would have been a first-down catch – knocking the ball loose and ultimately recovering the fumble.

“Our coach had us ready for what we had to do tonight – we knew that it was important,” Cordova said. “Stopping them was going to be tough, but we stepped up and kept after it.”

Adding to the effort of the corps was defensive back Stephen Thayer, who made a monumental stop when Benicia was trying for the go-ahead conversion late in the fourth quarter.

Justin Palacio also deflected a pass.