The Union Democrat
Sonora ready to face red-hot Rams in section semifinal
After a convincing 48- 15 win over the Center Cougars in the Division V section quarterfinals last Friday, the Sonora Wildcats are set to take on the Dixon Rams in the section semifinals.
The No. 6 seed Rams are fresh off a stunning 28-21 upset of No. 3 Liberty Ranch, who led the Rams 21-7 at one point before the Rams scored 21 unanswered points to win.
Dixon plays a very similar brand of football as Center, said Sonora head coach Bryan Craig, particularly in the running game. The Rams also prefer to pass the ball, averaging more than twice as many passing yards per game as rushing yards.
While the Wildcats enter this week’s game as the presumptive favorite as the No. 2 seed in the section, they will have to play a much cleaner game than they did last week if they hope to get past the Rams, according to Craig.
“We have to definitely turn it up a notch from what we did last week,” Craig said. “The passing game that Dixon has with their quarterback and their wideouts is a little bit better, so our defensive backs are going to have to get better than they were last week. We are definitely going to have to make sure that we make that quarterback uncomfortable.”
Sonora’s secondary excelled in their quarterfinal game against Center, with the Wildcats’ defensive backs and linebackers deflecting would-be touchdown passes on multiple occasions. One of those key plays came from linebacker Cooper Moberg, who
batted down a fourth-down try from Center in the end zone.
But in spite of the success of their secondary, the Wildcats’ coaching staff was underwhelmed by the defense’s overall aggression and physicality against Center, Moberg said, so they plan on dialing things up in this coming matchup.
“Just being physical, man — that’s all we have got to do,” Moberg said. “Last game, we kind of got our butts kicked defensively, so we are going to try to be a little better about that. The line is a little smaller, so that should be easier for linebackers.”
Having just emerged from an upset win — the Rams will come into the game with all the confidence in the world, Sonora lineman Roger Alderman said.
To counter that momentum, Alderman said he wants the Wildcats to be aggressive from the very first play.
“They just won two weeks in a row of playoffs — most teams aren’t even playing anymore,” Alderman said. “I think they are going to come in real excited, just like Center did, but I think that if we come out and punch them in the mouth like we did against Center they are going to give up.”
“I think we need to be a lot more disciplined on defense and on offense, and I think we need to lay some hat,” Alderman continued. “Get off the ball and hit people a little bit harder than last week because even though they aren’t as big or athletic as Center was, they are still a pretty good team and they can pass really well.”
Sonora’s inability to read the screen pass was a serious problem against Center, according to Alderman, giving up big yardage to Center running back Benny Tafoya before the Wildcats finally shut it down at the end of the game with an Alderman pick-six.
They will try to correct that against a Rams team they believe will utilize the same play, Alderman said.
“I know they are going to utilize the screen a lot against us,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I got a pick-six on one last week, but we didn’t read it well the entire game — that was the only play that we actually read it well. When we read it right, we are actually going to benefit from it more.”
A storyline in last week’s game against Center was the emergence of shifty quarterback Adam Curnow in the passing attack, who was incredibly efficient as a passer.
Should the Rams load up to stop Sonora’s run, Craig said the Wildcats trust Curnow to deliver.
“We are a running team — we don’t kid anybody about it. We are going to come out like, ‘You stop us,’” Craig said. “If we are capable, which we think we are, to pass the ball we are going to pass the ball. It’s just a matter of how we see them defending us.”
The team’s success this year, with a 9-2 overall record, has been something of a surprise to Alderman, who said their earlyseason struggles against talented teams helped harden them for postseason play.
“In the beginning of the season, to be honest with you, I didn’t think we would be doing so well right now,” Alderman said. “We started playing with some really tough teams, like Oakdale and Hilmar. I think that helped us grow a lot faster.”
As the Wildcats enter their 12th week of games this fall, the aches and pains of a long season are beginning to show.
Alderman has dealt with a swollen pointer finger since the team’s Oct. 14 game against Argonaut. But minor injuries won’t distract the Wildcats, according to Moberg, who have their eyes fixed on their next opponent.
“It kind of depends on how you look at it, because it is rougher on your body, but the more you want it, the (more) fun it gets,” Moberg said. “I want a section title. That’s my motivation.”
The Sonora Wildcats are bound for the section semifinals for the first time since 2019, where the Wildcats faced off against the Escalon Cougars. The Wildcats competed in their last section championship game in 2015, where they triumphed over Bear River 42-30 to win the section title.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Dunlavy Field in Sonora