Sonora football coach Bryan Craig would like to see how his Wildcats would play with a lead.
Amy Alonzo Rozak / Union Democrat. Sonora defenders combine to make a tackle in Friday's loss to Sierra at Dunlavy Field.
Well of course he would, but through the first five games of the season, the Wildcats have led for a grand total of four minutes out of 240.
Each game, the Wildcats have been behind at halftime, have rallied to make it close, but couldn’t come all the way back.
Friday night’s game was no different. The Cats fell behind 30-6 at halftime, and then a spirited rally put them within striking distance only to be defeated 45-26 by the Sierra Timberwolves at Dunlavy Field.
“These kids don’t quit,” Craig said. “But if we can find a way to not be down in a game, and play like we did in that second half, we’d probably beat some teams, and beat them bad. It was not a very good game for us, inconsistent play on our part. We got down by a lot and we’re not a team that can come back from that far back, we don’t have that type of offense like they do. They throw the ball all over the place. But I was proud of the way the kids came out after halftime.”
Sonora almost grabbed a first-half lead. Down 10-0 late in the first quarter, Wildcat quarterback Zach Atwood connected with Ryan Puou on a 41-yard pass on third down to set up Andrew Nessi’s 4-yard touchdown run to make it 10-6 after the 2-point conversion failed.
On Sierra’s next possession, Sonora defensive back Will Collamer provided a Wildcat sideline eruption by intercepting his second pass of the season at Wildcat 41.
“I know that receiver from basketball, his name is Bryson,” said Collamer, who also made an acrobatic 27-yard reception in the second half. “Their sideline was saying, ‘Lets go Bryson, lets go Bryson.’ So I was thinking stop or slant route and as soon as he made that first cut, I broke on it and the ball ended up in my hands.”
Atwood ran into Sierra territory for a first down, but Sonora was forced to punt with 7:44 left in the half.
Sierra then went to their passing attack and Timberwolves quarterback Jake Pruitt filled the night sky with spiraling pigskins.
In just over four minutes and three drives, Pruitt connected on passes of 50, 53 and 63 yards, the latter two going for touchdowns. With 2:17 left in the half, Sierra opened a 30-6 lead.
“It (their passing attack) was amazing, but our DBs, they were on top of their game,” said Wildcat Ryan Puou. “They did a good job of covering, but that quarterback had a really good arm and those receivers have some pretty good hands.”
In the third quarter, the Cats’ ground game came to life after gaining just 73 yards in the first half.
Sonora moved 65 yards in 10 plays and capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown from fullback K.C. Brandsted.
After Sonora forced Sierra to turn the ball over on downs, the Wildcats marched 44 yards on 10 plays capped by another Brandsted 3-yard score. The key play on the drive was a third down 20-yard run by Bryce Sanguinetti.
The 2-point conversion failed, but the Wildcats were down just 30-20 with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
“The coaches made some adjustments halftime and I give a lot of credit to them,” Collamer said. “We play hard no matter what, they just made adjustments and they worked. My hats off to them.”
Sierra answered with two scores to take control and Sonora’s final score came from Atwood on a 1-yard sneak.
“We got ourselves to within a score, and then we couldn’t get over that second hump,” Craig said. “We got over that first one, but ... we gotta find a way.”
Sonora rushed for 260 yards on 56 carries while Sierra threw for 497 but gained just 37 on the ground.
“We were able to shut down their run game,” said Wildcat defensive lineman Brett Cahoon, who made two sacks and two tackles for loss. “Stevie (Lawrence) was filling really hard. We certainly played our hearts out.”
“We came out and, as usual, parked the run,” said Wildcat linebacker Steve Lawrence, who also rushed for 41 yards as a fullback. “We gotta work on our pass defense after this. I’m glad we’re gonna be going against a few teams coming up that like to run a little bit more. But tonight ... our second half effort was great.”
The combined record of Sonora’s first five opponents is 18-7. The record of the next five is 7-18. Can the Wildcats reverse what happened in the first five games, run the table and put their name in the postseason hat?
“0-5 is a terrible thing, but we gotta learn from our mistakes and erase the first half out of our head,” Lawrence said. “If we win out, there’s a still a chance of playoffs and I’m looking up. I’m optimistic about this team. I still believe and so does everyone else on this field.”
Game notes: Sonora’s K.C. Brandsted made an acrobatic 35-yard run that was disallowed when it was ruled he hurdled a Sierra defender. ... Wildcat punter Cayden McLaughlin punted three times, twice he pinned the Timberwolves inside the 10-yard line and once at the 15. On one, he leaped for the snap and, from a sideways position, booted the ball which rolled dead 47 yards later at the Sierra 1. He averaged 42 yards per boot. ... Kade Barajas returned a punt 43 yards to the Sierra 22 with 14 seconds left in the first half. ... Sonora was penalized five times for 60 yards in the first half and two for 15 in the second. Sierra was penalized once in the first half and seven times for 62 yards in the second.