Throw seedings out the window, says Sierra coach Jeff Harbison.
Rio Linda (9-2), No. 10 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoff bracket, deserves its chance to topple Harbison’s No. 2-seeded Timberwolves (10-1) tonight. The winner takes on No. 3 Oakdale (10-)1 or No. 6 Vista del Lago (8-3).
“The four teams left on our side of the bracket are pretty good football teams,” Harbison said. “There is no night off when you get to the second round of the playoffs and on.”
Many figured Rio Linda to be a dangerous team in Division III after the Knights reached the semifinals in the talent-rich Division II field last year. Seventh-seeded Placer (8-3) found out firsthand in the opening round. The Hillmen scored 33 points in the second quarter and held a 25-point lead at one point in the first half … and lost, 62-51.
“They don’t quit,” Harbison said. “They have that never-say-die attitude.”
And they have Marcel Brown.
The Knights rode their 5-foot-10, 205-pound workhorse in the wild comeback. Slowed by an ankle injury in the first half, Brown ended up with 349 rushing yards and six touchdowns, one of them a 99-yard kickoff return.
Brown has received several offers from NCAA Division I programs such as Arizona, Washington and Utah, to name a few, and his latest show-stopping effort is sure to have upped his stock. For the season he has 1,760 yards (10.8 per carry) and 31 total touchdowns.
“He is a big, strong kid who can also run pretty doggone fast,” said Harbison, who compared Brown to former Sierra standout Anthony Cota. “No doubt a major threat.”
But not the only one Rio Linda has at its disposal. Sierra’s stout run defense will also have to be mindful of the quick Calvin Robinson (1,030 yards, 11 TDs) and Zak Burden, a 6-3, 215-pound quarterback who doesn’t shy away from contact. Burden has thrown for 1,475 yards, 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and is also the Knights’ third-leading rusher (690 yards, 7 TDs).
“(Burden) runs the read (option) really well and they definitely set him up to succeed,” Harbison said.
Rio Linda operates a multi-faceted offense that can run well out of three-receiver sets and pass effectively with two in the backfield. Although Brown is the centerpiece of the offense, don’t be surprised if the Knights test Sierra’s banged-up secondary. In last week’s 69-37 win over No. 15 Rosemont (6-5), the Timberwolves ceded 470 yards and five touchdowns through the air as four safeties exited the game with injuries. It’s the most yards and points given up by Sierra this season.
Harbison said Sierra’s defense is back at full strength for tonight’s game and “focused on playing good, assignment football.”
Linebacker Pieter Koopman (122 tackles), 6-3, 225-pound lineman Hunter Clark (28 tackles for losses, 10.5 sacks), Michael Serrano (56 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) and defensive back Seth McCoy (4 interceptions) are among Rio Linda’s top defenders.
The Knights finished in a three-way tie for second in the Tri-County Conference with losses to River Valley (6-5) and Inderkum (10-1), the top-seeded team in Division III. Inderkum won that game, 62-21. Rio Linda has notable close wins over Roseville, Cosumes Oaks and Yuba City.
Rio Linda is ranked 23rd in the MaxPreps SJS Top 25, while Sierra is No. 14.