Last Friday's 32nd annual Mountain Bowl between Yosemite and Sierra was not the most important game in the North Sequoia League, but to Sierra (5-5, 2-3) and Yosemite (1-9, 0-5), it is still huge. The D-V Chieftains were in a playoff hunt. Yosemite badly wanted its second win of the season, especially over rival Sierra.
Playing their best game of the season just wasn't enough for the Badgers. Sierra pulled out a 28-19 victory in the final quarter in Tollhouse.
Kent Lincoln, Badger head coach and the Badgers utilized their whole playbook, operating out of multiple formations, and Yosemite didn't fold when Sierra tried to pull away.
"We gave it everything we had," Lincoln said. "We played a good game and had way fewer mistakes. We were in this game till the end. I wanted our seniors to get the win though and they almost pulled it off."
Yosemite got it going on their first possession. Sophomore Jayson Lee had runs of 14 and 15 yards. Junior Quarterback Joey Woolsey looked sharp hitting mid-range passes. Lee took direct snaps, the offense was humming and moved the ball all the way to the Sierra 10 yard-line then the Badgers misfired.
Wide receiver Cody Elam ran an out pattern but Woolsey threw it inside and the pass was picked off by Sierra's Mike Waters at the five. A 15-play, 70-yard drive went for naught for the Badgers.
Sierra's running back Aaron Maldonado sprinted around left end for a 30-yard run. Next play quarterback Brent Smith pitched to Maldonado, and Badger linebacker Bobbie Magee wrapped up Maldonado causing a fumble that the Chieftains recovered. The Badger defense pinned Sierra deep in their territory and they were forced to punt. Lee had a 12-yard return to the Sierra 38.
Running back Cameron Monahan had a 20-yard run and Woolsey hit receiver Drew Lassos on an 18-yard slant for the first score of the game. The point after failed but YHS was on top 6-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Chieftains would respond quickly. On the first play of the second quarter Smith aired out a 61-yard touchdown pass to Mike Waters. Smith kicked the point after and Sierra led 7-6.
On the next series, Yosemite moved the ball but was stopped at the Sierra 41. A Elam punt pinned Sierra back at their own five yard line. The Badger defense held and forced Sierra to punt. YHS was set up at the Chieftain 47. A Sierra blitz forced a Woolsey scramble and fumble. Jake Darrell of Sierra recovered at the Badger 43. On the next play Smith faked a handoff that fooled everyone and raced 43 yards for the TD. Smith booted the PAT and Sierra went into halftime up 14-6.
Smith hurt the Badgers again early in the third quarter. On the Chieftains first possession Smith took the shotgun snap and ran untouched up the middle for a 54-yard touchdown. Another Smith point after made it 21-6 with 11 minutes to go in the third.
Starting on the Badger 10-yard line, Woolsey hit Elam on a 27-yard pass. Elam made an acrobatic catch out jumping the defender. Finally, Woolsey floated a deep pass 40 yards with Drew Lassos coming up with the ball, making a quick fake and bolted for a score. Lassos leapt over a defender at the goal line for an apparent TD but the referee determined Lassos lost the ball prior to scoring.
Sierra would take over at their 20. After a penalty moved Sierra to the 10, Smith missed on a pitch to Maldonado. Badger defender Joe DePaz recovered it at the eight yard line. The Badgers were in business. Two plays later Woolsey hit Elam on a 10-yard slant for the TD. Donavan Iverson booted the point after and it was a ballgame again with Yosemite down 21-13 by the end of the third.
On Sierra's first possession of the fourth quarter Woolsey intercepted a Smith pass at the 50 and returned it to the Sierra 34. Woolsey hit Lee for 10 yards on a crossing route. Lee then hit Lassos on another slant down to the seven. From there Lee took it in for a touchdown. Lincoln called for a two-point conversion and Woolsey took the snap, passed to Iverson who ended up inches short of the goal line. The Badgers were down 21-19.
Could this be an upset in the making? The Badgers would make a run at it. On Sierra's next possession, the Chieftains were moving the ball. A 21-yard run by Smith pushed the ball into Badger territory. At the YHS 44, Maldonado mishandled the exchange and the ball hit the ground. Badger linebacker Brandon O'Brien fell on it at the 48.
The Badgers were now in a position to pull off a huge upset, but it was not to be. Woolsey hit Lee to get to the Sierra 41 but the Badgers would get no closer ... Sierra took over on downs. Four plays later Maldonado went over left tackle and bolted 54-yards to the end zone. The Smith point after sealed it for Sierra.
The Yosemite JV team beat Sierra 22-21. The game ended with one second on the clock as Sierra's holder mishandled the snap on a short field-goal attempt.
Varsity game stats
Badger seniors ended strong. Lassos had his first 100-yard receiving night. Monahan and Magee had close to 60 yards of total offense. Meza led the team in tackles. Woolsey threw for his second highest total of the season. The best stat was just two Badger turnovers on the night. It kept the Badgers in the game. With the Badger defense coming up big, it took a fourth quarter effort by Sierra to secure the win.
Rushing: Yosemite (104): Lee 21-63, Magee 4-14, Monahan 4-44, Woolsey 1-(-17). Sierra (272): Smith 11-158, Maldonado 19-109, Waters 1-1, Leo Cash 1-4.
Passing: Yosemite, Woolsey 16-38-240-1. Sierra, Smith 1-6-61-1.
Receiving: Yosemite, Elam 5-40, Donovan Iverson 1-8, Lassos 5-103, Lee 3-27, Magee 1-39, Meza 1-9, Monahan 1-14. Sierra, Waters 1-61.
Tackles: Yosemite, Meza 7 and a forced fumble, Brandon O'Brien 5, Anthony Archer 4. Jayson Lee 4 and an interception.
Four NSL teams are seeded in the Central Section CIF playoffs. Liberty goes for two titles in a row as the No. 1 seed in D-V. The Hawks will get a stiff challenge from No. 2 Mendota (9-1) winner of the West Sierra. The Aztecs moved up from D-VI where they won their second straight title last year. Washington Union is No.3 in a loaded D-III bracket. Union has won 7 in a row but just edged Kerman last week. The Panthers will probably travel as No. 1 Tulare Western (7-3) and No. 2 Porterville (8-2) are in the mix.
Last Friday NSL scores
Liberty 33 Chowchilla 0
Union 17 Kerman 15
Sierra 28 Yosemite 19
NSL final standings
Washington Union 7 -3 5 -0
Liberty 9 -1 4 -1
Kerman 6 -4 2 -3
Sierra 5 -5 2 -3
Chowchilla 4 -6 2 -3
Yosemite 1 -9 0 -5
CIF Playoffs Friday
Washington Union (D-III) No. 3 seed - Bye
Kerman (D-IV) No. 11 seed at No. 6 McLane
Liberty (D-V) No. 1 seed - Bye
Sierra (D-V) No. 9 seed at Caruthers