Sierra High School continued its improbable postseason run with a 17-13 victory over Sutter on Saturday night at River Valley High School in Yuba City and, true to recent form, the Timberwolves relied on a first-half flourish to get the job done.
The Timberwolves (9-5) advance to take on Chowchilla (12-2) in the CIF Division IV-A State Championship Bowl Game. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. at the Redskins’ Henry Massaro Stadium. Chowchilla advanced with a 28-16 victory over Fairfax of Los Angeles.
Though the Timberwolves finished the regular season with a 5-5 record and fifth in the rugged Valley Oak League, conference matchups against Central Catholic, Oakdale and Manteca left them better prepared for the rigors of postseason football than their opponents.
The VOL schedule also must have taught Sierra the value of a quick start. Since trailing 27-13 at halftime in the regular-season finale against Weston Ranch, a game in which Sierra fought back to win 34-27 to even its record at 5-5, the T’wolves have led at the break each week since. Before the playoffs began, Sierra had not taken a lead into the locker room since leading crosstown rival East Union 28-14 on Oct. 2.
The T’wolves led 14-0 against Union Mine in their Division IV section opener, 14-7 against Summerville a week later and then bolted to a 15-0 lead over Liberty Ranch in the D-IV final.
On Saturday night, Sierra led Sutter 14-10 at the break and battled to a 3-3 standoff afterward.
Mark Paule Jr., who has rushed for 1,428 yards this season after surpassing 2,000 yards as a junior, got Sierra on the board first with a one-yard plunge into the end zone.
Sutter countered with Bryce Kunkle’s 93-yard kickoff return, but Paule put his team back on top with another one-yard dive to close the first quarter.
James McHugh’s 24-yard field goal cut Sierra’s lead to 14-10.
McHugh pulled Sutter to within 14-13, with a 23-yard field goal in the third quarter, and a 26-yard field goal by the Timberwolves’ Marcus Castillo in the fourth quarter closed the scoring in the defensive battle.
Sierra quarterback Mark Vicente completed 10 of 18 passes for 87 yards with an interception. He also carried the ball 16 times for 103 yards. Paule ran 21 times for 98 yards. On the other side of the ball, defensive lineman Andrew Guevara had 2 1/2 sacks and one tackle for a loss.
Not much was expected from Sierra this postseason. Playoff brackets are filled first with league champions and automatic qualifiers before at-large teams are chosen based on overall record.
Almost always, six wins will get a team into the playoffs, as was the case this year. It’s the 5-5 teams that have to sweat it out.
Of the 22 teams in Divisions I through VI that finished at .500 and were waiting for an at-large bid, only five squeaked into the playoffs.
Sierra was the last team to gain entry into the field. The Timberwolves, along with VOL rival Central Catholic, are the only Sac-Joaquin Section teams with a practice scheduled for Monday.