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Sierra takes aim at VOL 'Big Three'

Sierra High and coach Jeff Harbison hope to break from tradition this year: The Timberwolves hope to win the school's first football title and Harbison hopes to celebrate a victory over the "Big Three."

The Valley Oak League is ruled by Manteca, Sonora and Oakdale -- at least one of the three has won the league title every year since 1999.

Sierra's been the best of the rest the last two years, losing only to those three, but hopes to rise to the top this season.

That pursuit starts Friday when Sierra goes across town to face rival Manteca -- which is 4-0 and The Bee's No. 4-ranked large school. Both won their league openers a week ago, as did Sonora and Oakdale.

Sierra's junior varsity went 9-0-1 overall and won the VOL a year ago, and the blending of juniors and seniors has the been key to this year's start.

Junior running back Jarrod Daniels and senior quarterback Ryan Flores illustrate how Sierra has exploited the best of both classes.

"We have a great balance with the two of them in the backfield," Harbison said. "Jarrod is a hard runner with great vision. Ryan is a solid passer who reads the defense well. He is a very shifty runner who isn't afraid to lower his pads and hit somebody."

Behind Daniels (398 yards rushing, nine touchdowns) and Flores (740 yards passing and rushing, four TD passes), Sierra (3-1) is averaging 27 points.

"Although we are young, I feel these kids grasp the importance of each game," Harbison said. "They are hungry to make the playoffs. The seniors remember our close games last year, and they do not want a repeat this year."

Sierra was on the verge of beating Sonora and Manteca in 2007, but disaster struck.

A fumbled punt snap in the end zone led to Sonora's decisive TD in a 14-7 victory, then Sierra had three turnovers inside Manteca's 3-yard line on the way to a 28-21 setback.