In a year of uncertainty for most Division I North football teams, one thing appears to be almost certain.
The five-team Sierra League has put together two straight wild, unpredictable seasons, and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if 2014 made it three in a row. For the Sierra, uncertainty has become the theme.
On the other side of town, the High Desert League has also had its share of upsets and frantic finishes. But, in the end, recent seasons have ended with Reed finding a way to finish of top and advance the furthest in the postseason.
With only four shots at league games, every Sierra League meeting gets magnified. There can be no weeks off.
“There’s a ton of parity in our league; we’re going to be in a dogfight every single week,” Carson coach Blair Roman said. “That’s how, in a way, we build our program. We know we’re going to be in a lot of tight games, and there’s a lot of little things you’ve got to focus on and make sure you’re taking care of.”
Although four of the five Sierra teams qualify for the Division I North regional playoffs, it’s not a wise idea to take anything for granted. Galena and Bishop Manogue provide a nice example from last year, where the Miners appeared to save their season with a homecoming win over an unbeaten Grizzles team that had looked to be cruising to a possible Sierra title.
But, despite scoring arguably the season’s biggest upset, the Miners’ 1-3 league record still left them as the odd team out in the playoff mix. Galena, meanwhile, overcame a 1-2 start in league games to score a dramatic season-ending win over Damonte Ranch to not only salvage its season but finish high enough to earn a home playoff game.
Just another day in the Sierra.
“If we would have beaten Galena, they could have gone from first to out of the playoffs,” Damonte Ranch coach Shawn Dupris said. “It was a great opportunity. You can sell that to the kids: ‘You’re always in it. You’ve got a shot.'”
The Sierra also had an interesting season in 2012, where, for example, perennial playoff team Carson finished 0-4 in the league while losing three of those games by seven or fewer points. But the peak of uncertainty was reached late last year, when the possibility arose that, with just three total league games left on the schedule, the Sierra could have a five-way tie for first place at 2-2.
It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t too difficult to imagine that it could.
“I think the Sierra League is always up for grabs,” Douglas coach Ernie Monfiletto said. “It speaks highly of the parity in the league, and I think we really have a lot of quality programs and quality coaches that do the best they can to get kids prepared to win.”
This season’s Sierra League race looks to be wide open. Defending champion Carson will be a factor, especially after getting running back Colby Brown back from injury. But the Senators, like everyone else, lost a significant amount of talent to graduation and will be filling holes with players getting their first significant varsity playing time.
Damonte Ranch has gone deep into the playoffs two years in a row. Bishop Manogue has a new outlook under first-year coach Thomas Peregrin. Galena, with the league’s best combined record in 2012 and 2013, is a team that no one looks forward to playing. And Douglas feels like it will be in the mix, too.
Not one of those teams returns its starting quarterback. Most do not have ballcarriers who saw anything other than limited duty last season. It really could be anyone’s ballgame.
“I love it,” Dupris said. “Every week, it’s going to be a battle, and every week, there’s going to be surprises.”
SIERRA LEAGUE, 2012-2013
Combined league records for Sierra League teams in the 2012 and 2013 seasons:
Bishop Manogue: 4-4
Damonte Ranch: 4-4