With early struggles converting lengthy drives into points and defensive miscues revealing obvious vulnerabilities, Sierra High leaned on trickery, major defensive adjustments and enough Anthony Cota to outlast the Tracy Bulldogs 32-26 Friday.
Cota bruised his way to 176 yards on 25 carries, scoring touchdowns in each half and totaling over 100 yards rushing before halftime. Yet, defensively Sierra gave up over 267 yards rushing in the first half as Tracy back Bruce Russell had his way with two early scores.
“They got a boatload on the ground in the first half,” Sierra head coach Jeff Harbison said. “I think with the adjustments we made our defense stepped up in the second half.
“We contained the triple-option, we didn’t stop the triple-option.”
When it did come time for the Timberwolves to stop it they did. Tracy regained the lead 26-24 with 7:34 to go in the contest, but abandoned the run in its final possession. Tracy would instead throw three consecutive passes before trying a sweep on fourth down that they didn’t convert.
The troubles that plagued Sierra early were based on assignments and some personnel issues. Russell broke off a 72-yard touchdown and another from 14 yards out, but was held to just 30 yards on second half carries.
“The first half we were confused to be honest,” Sierra cornerback Jonathan Montoya said. “Because we watched film on them and studied their formations, and all of a sudden they changed it.
“In the second half we learned the information about it and we adapted to it.”
The game-changing play came on the first offensive play from scrimmage of the fourth quarter. Sierra started Jayson Manuta on an end-around and in one moment nearly the entire Tracy defense focused on Mantua in the backfield as Jordan Lewis was on his way up the sideline.
Mantua found his wide-open target, completing the 51-yard touchdown pass and giving Sierra its first lead of the second half.
Cota would do the rest, grinding out 35 yards on his final seven carries, never getting stopped for a loss and never being tackled by a single defender. Outside of a first-half fumble inside the red zone Cota was impressive.
“We wanted to try and come out strong,” Cota said. “I didn’t have the best game in the world but the line made holes and they did their job and we came out with the ‘W’ and that’s what matters. I’ve got to work at practice a little harder because I was cramping up in my calves.
“I’m going to continue to pick it up at practice and try to not let it happen in our next game.”
The Timberwolves had Guillermo Nunez and Jake Pruitt split time at quarterback. Nunez took the game’s first snap, but Pruitt was in attempting passes on Sierra’s next possession. Both players were effective with the offense and were able to complete passes. Dakota Conners (6 receptions, 50 yards) hauled in passes from both quarterbacks and doesn’t see an end to their competition anytime soon.
“They’re both great and they both work hard all week each and every day,” Conners said. “It’s a battle right now and they’re just going to have to figure that out.
“We’ll see, they’ll just have to keep battling.”