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NORTHERN SECTION SEMIFINALS: Sutter, Pierce, Maxwell face scary, familiar foes
Nine Mid-Valley area football teams kicked off the postseason last Friday night, but when the dust cleared, only three were left standing.
Now, things get serious.
Northern Section championship game berths will be decided tonight, and the theme of the evening will be revenge for Sutter High, Pierce and Maxwell, each of which are facing teams that bounced them from the playoffs a year ago.
But in a night of rematches, perhaps the biggest will be played at Sutter's Wayne Gadberry Field where the top-seeded Huskies host No. 4 Orland High in a replay of last year's Division II title game.
The Trojans handed Sutter its only two loses of the season last year en route to winning the section crown, and the Huskies have been hungry to return the favor ever since.
Sutter (11-0) exacted a small measure of revenge with a 20-3 victory when the two Butte View League rivals met on Sept. 28. The Huskies led 7-3 before scoring a pair touchdowns in the fourth quarter, overcoming a season-high four turnovers to earn their toughest win of the year to date.
Tonight's rematch also pits two of the best defensive units in the section against each other, with the Trojans (9-2) allowing a paltry 8 points per game and Sutter giving up just 9 points per contest.
Another hard-hitting, defensive battle could be in store tonight, and Sutter coach Ryan Reynolds said he wouldn't have it any other way.
"Number one, they bring a hard, aggressive, relentless defense that we really appreciate," Reynolds said. "They taught us that we can't make any mistakes. We've got to take care of the ball and make good decisions with it." On offense, the Huskies will turn to their patented wing-T attack that is averaging 46 points and 324 rushing yards per contest.
Senior fullback Nathan Ahlers leads the way for Sutter with 1,234 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground, while senior halfback Mat Sanders is right behind him with 919 yards and 10 scores.
The Huskies, who are averaging a hefty 8.54 yards per carry as a team, had little trouble in their playoff opener against Yreka last week when they jumped out to a 49-0 halftime lead before coasting to a 49-7 victory.
Tonight's game figures to be much tougher, though.
Orland opened the playoffs with a 33-0 win over Wheatland and has a strong offense to complement its lights-out defense.
Senior Zack Garzoli leads the team in rushing with 953 yards and 11 touchdowns, but four other Trojans have ran for more than 300 yards and four or more touchdowns on the year.
"It's the playoffs. Every team is going to try to knock us off, but there's a little more to that knowing that we lost to them twice last year," said Philip Robledo, a three-year standout at safety for the Huskies. "Anything can happen on a Friday night, so we're prepared."
The winner of tonight's game will face the winner of No. 2 Central Valley and No. 3 West Valley in the D-II championship game on Saturday, Nov. 24.
Willows (7-4) at Pierce (11-0)
In Arbuckle — The top-seeded Bears and the No. 4 Honkers will renew acquaintances at Gregg LeMaster Field in a rematch of last year's Division III semifinal game.
Tonight will be the fourth meeting between the teams in the last two years. The Bears beat Willows 14-7 at home on Nov. 2 to clinch the Sacramento Valley League title, but it was the Honkers who came into Arbuckle last year and ended Pierce's season with a 29-15 win in the semis.
Leading the offensive charge for Pierce is senior fullback Andy Corona, who has rumbled for 1,210 yards and 17 touchdowns on the year. Quarterback Nate Smith has added 529 rushing yards and eight TDs.
The Bears, who beat Durham 37-12 in their playoff opener last week, come into tonight's game at No. 4 in the latest Cal-Hi Sports Division IV Northern California Bowl Rankings and are looking to capture their first section title since 2004.
Willows, the defending D-III champions, beat East Nicolaus 41-14 to open the playoffs a week ago.
Mo. 3 Modoc and No. 2 Hamilton will meet in the other semifinal contest. The championship game will be played on Wednesday night.
Maxwell (8-3) at Portola (9-1)
In Portola — The No. 3-seeded Panthers will make the trip up to Plumas County to take on No. 2 Portola with a spot in the D-IV title game on the line.
The Tigers beat Maxwell 27-21 during Mountain Valley League play on Oct. 19 and is the same team that bounced the Panthers in the semifinals last year, ending the Panthers' run of six consecutive title game appearances.
Maxwell scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to beat Burney 35-14 last week. Senior quarterback George Barajas led the way, passing for 152 yards and rushing for 106 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Running back Zack Martinez leads the Tigers with 1,209 yards and 12 TDs.