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Pierce looking to reload and finish the job
Twice in the last two seasons, the Pierce High football team came within one game of making it to the Northern Section Division III championship game only to lose to Willows, a team it beat during the regular season.
The Bears are once again out for revenge, but this time they will have to do it with a batch of unproven players after losing 18 players to graduation, 13 of whom started or saw significant playing time.
"Once you start winning, you have a mark on your back. It's fun to be hunted, and you have to appreciate that," Sacramento Valley League Coach of the Year Scott Burnum said. "They want to win it, and it will come down to how we react to adversity."
Burnum believes he found a suitable successor to quarterback Nate Smith, who passed for 589 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 543 yards and eight more, with senior Oscar Sanchez. Sanchez moves behind center after playing wide receiver last year, and he gives the Bears' ball-control offense a big-play threat.
"He is easily one of the best Division III all-around athletes; (on defense) he had three or four interceptions last year in league play alone," Burnum said.
Sanchez has just one year of starting experience at quarterback after picking up the position as a sophomore for the Pierce junior varsity team. Last year, he saw limited time at quarterback during the second half of blowout games.
"It's a big position to fill in. I didn't play much quarterback last year, but I'm excited to play it," Sanchez said. "I've got to lead the team and do what we did last year, and hopefully do even better."
The backfield lost several key players, including SVL Offensive MVP fullback Andy Corona, who rushed for 1,362 yards and 19 touchdowns. Filling his shoes will be junior Saul Mendez and senior Adolfo Ramirez.
Mendez steps into Corona's role at fullback and linebacker, and Ramirez will play running back and fullback.
"(Mendez) is a bruiser and will be a big part of our offense," Burnum said.
Ramirez is the most experienced player in the backfield and rushed for 541 yards and three touchdowns last season.
The losses to Willows hit Ramirez harder than most, especially after last season. He nearly scored the winning touchdown during the team's 3-0 overtime loss to Willows in the playoffs last season, but was called down mere inches shy of the goalline.
"That was the worst feeling ever. I'm just looking forward to facing Willows again and we will take it to them," Ramirez said. "We want to win that championship and we believe we can."
Burnum brought up sophomore running back Garrett Brainard to help out in the backfield and he will be in the mix for a starting role.
Another big question mark for the Bears is their offensive line, which lost all but one starter, but senior center Robert Cross isn't too worried about finding replacements for the departed linemen.
"I've seen a lot of potential in the up-and-coming guys. They have the potential to be as good or better than the guys before," Cross said.
Seniors Wyatt Croxson and Adrian Martinez will likely start on the line and there are four or five other players competing for starting positions, Burnum said.
All-league tight end Joe Howard returns and will provide Sanchez with a tall, athletic target while contributing in the blocking game. On defense, Howard will play middle linebacker and was second on the team with 93 tackles last season.
Defensive specialist David Castaneda returns at nose guard where he was an all-league selection last year, helping the Bears hold opposing teams to less than 10 points a game.
Sanchez returns at safety, but junior Josue Ambriz and senior Fabian Paiz will replace departed seniors at the cornerback positions, flanking Howard and Mendez at linebacker.
Sophomore kicker Juan Padilla gives the Bears a threat in the kicking game and should help the defense out with better field position, Burnum said.
Pierce opens the season on Aug. 30 at home against Esparto and ends the regular season Nov. 8 in Willows with the game the entire team is waiting for.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 458-2121 or email@example.com