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Sierra High football finally breaks through
Sierra High’s Robert Plunk shows his teammates his dedication when he takes off his helmet on the sidelines that shows a Timberwolf shaved on the back of his head during practice for the Timberwolves second playoff game against Whitney High in Rocklin. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Top 10 sports stories of 2008

10. Derek Sinclair
9. Roberto Alvarez
8. Lathrop High
7. East Union baseball
6. East Union golf
5. Ripon/RC volleyball
4. Justin Graham/Mike Nunnally
3. Spencer Arroyo
2. Amy Haapanen
1. Sierra football

It was season of many firsts for the Sierra High football team.

First victory over rival Manteca since 2000, and first victory over Sonora since 1998.

First shot at the Valley Oak League title.

First team in the program’s 14th year of varsity play to win more than six games.

First team in program history to finish with nine wins.

First team to qualify for the playoffs.

First playoff football victory in school history.

First quarterback, Ryan Flores, to pass and rush for over 1,000 yards each.

First head coach, Jeff Harbison, from Sierra to be named VOL Coach of the Year.

First player, Defensive Player of the Year Michael Turner, to earn a major all-VOL honor since Ben Oehninger in 1999.

And for the first time, Sierra High isn’t saying, “Maybe next season.”

Sierra’s unexpected success of 2008 is the Bulletin’s top story of the year.

Even though the current junior class went 8-0-2 en route to a VOL championship as sophomores, Sierra, given its history of success in the lower levels but inability to translate it to the varsity, wasn’t given a chance.

The Timberwolves went  from underdogs to the area’s top dogs in a matter of weeks.

In Week 2 of the preseason, Sierra grinded out a 23-22 overtime victory over McNair of Stockton. McNair was coming off its first win in its program’s third varsity season, and the Eagles went on to advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.

That win set the tone for the T’Wolves, who edged Manteca 7-6 three weeks later. Manteca had long ruled its Manteca Unified counterparts since 2001, capturing three Valley Oak League and as many section championships since.

As it turned out, a botched point-after attempt, which ended up being an incomplete 2-point conversion pass, against Sierra was the difference of the Buffaloes season, as they missed a playoff berth despite an outstanding 8-2 record.

Sierra chugged right along in the meantime, trouncing Sonora 38-14 on homecoming to further increase school spirit and support from campus to community.

Sonora, Manteca and Oakdale are considered the VOL’s “Big 3” with each — and no one else, save for Weston Ranch in 2005 — having won at least a share of the title since the turn of the century.

After clinching the program’s first-ever postseason berth on Oct. 30 at Ceres, Sierra continued to venture into new territory.

The following week, the Timberwolves stood toe to toe with the much-favored Oakdale Mustangs for a shot at the school’s first varsity football title. Sierra’s run up to that point had been impressive enough to garner respect, but many observers were ready to congratulate the T’Wolves for their runner-up finish.

How could they stand a chance against a team that was crowned the state’s mythical Division III state champion just a year ago?

To its credit, Sierra hung tough with Oakdale in a 31-21 loss that wasn’t assured until the final minute.

Sierra hosted its first playoff game Nov. 21 and defeated Rio Linda (Sacramento), 21-7.In the delayed semifinal round, the Timberwolves’ historic season came to an end in a 51-28 loss to eventual section Division IV Whitney (Rocklin).

Sierra had an extra week to prepare for Whitney because the section awaited a court hearing regarding the eligibility of a Placer High player and the school’s football playoff hopes that were linked to him.

Placer won the case and stunned both Oakdale and Capital Valley Conference champion Dixon on the road before losing to Whitney in the final.

Despite the disappointing finish to the season, expectations are high going into 2009 after the Timberwolves finally broke free from their legacy of being good enough to compete, but not good enough to compete in the playoffs.

 — Jonamar Jacinto