Sierra grinds down San Francisco

Wolverines avenge NorCal title game loss at home
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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ROCKLIN —Paul Vassallo was wrapping up an impressive football career at Bishop Manogue High in Reno when City College of San Francisco beat Sierra College in the NorCal championship game last year. Now a freshman force at linebacker for the Wolverines, Vassallo played like he was avenging a personal loss Saturday afternoon. Vassallo sacked Rams quarterback Chris Forni four times, twice during a brilliant fourth-quarter defensive series that iced a 27-17 Sierra victory in front of a full house at Homer “Buzz” Ostrom Stadium. San Francisco, the defending national champion, beat Sierra 24-10 last December in the NorCal title game, known as the Hawaiian Punch Bowl. “It was an amazing performance,” Wolverines head coach Jeff Tisdel said. “The pressure we had all day was outstanding. I didn’t want to throw the ball a ton because I thought we were in better shape. I wanted to run the ball, kill some clock and play defense. Most people think when you wear them out you run the ball, which we did, but I think our defensive hits wore them out, too.” Quarterback Alex Rump completed only 7-of-19 passes for 84 yards, but Sierra dominated the Rams on the ground, took advantage of two key turnovers and turned in its best defensive performance of the early season. With the Wolverines (3-0) leading by the eventual final score, Rams safety Jarrell Harrison intercepted a pass and returned it to the San Francisco 45-yard line. The Rams (1-2) were backed up 10 yards for defensive holding — one of their 16 penalties totaling 118 yards — before Forni was sacked on three consecutive plays, the first by defensive lineman Sitani Tupou and the second two by Vassallo. “I wasn’t expecting that,” Vassallo said. “On one of them I think they had a breakdown in the line protection because I wasn’t even touched.” Sierra’s defense held the Rams to 23 total rushing yards and two second-half first downs. “Last year was a fluke, straight up,” said Sierra running back Lamon Muldrow, who fought his way for 155 yards and all three Sierra touchdowns on 46 carries. “We were supposed to win, but this year we redeemed ourselves and did it really good. We’re letting people know we’re not the ones to get messed with this year.” Linebacker Bryson Littlejohn recovered a Forni fumble on the opening play from scrimmage at the Rams 16-yard line, returning it to the 3 to set up a short touchdown scamper for Muldrow. Rams running back Nate Harrison wasted no time in responding, returning the ensuing kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown. Jens Alvernik’s extra point tied the score at 7 less than 40 seconds into the game. The Wolverines led 10-7 after Enos’ 27-yard field goal to close the first quarter. San Francisco drove 80 yards on 10 plays to take its final lead, 14-10, on a 38-yard scoring strike from Forni to Randell Washington. Sierra defensive back Dana Willis intercepted a Forni pass at the Rams’ 15-yard line after a perfectly-placed Enos punt forced them to start a drive at their own 3. Muldrow’s 7-yard run put the Wolverines up 17-14 going into halftime. Sierra scored on the opening drive of the second half, marching 55 yards on 14 plays, capped by a 1-yard Muldrow dive. The Wolverines also burned more than seven minutes off the game clock as the Rams started showing signs of fatigue. “We had a lot more endurance,” Tisdel said. “Our stamina wore them out. I’m just so proud of our football team for where we’ve come. Today was a win for Placer County and our program.” The Wolverines travel to play American River next Saturday at 1 p.m. “This is one of the biggest games that Sierra has played in, but we had the mindset to get it done,” said sophomore Ronnie Davidson, an inside linebacker from Colfax. “It does make a statement that we can do it, but we just have to go one game at a time. We’ll just make another statement next week.”