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HANFORD — Sierra Pacific opened the season on a 15-play, 71-yard drive culminating in a 7-0 lead. It’s what Golden Bears coach Dion Tate said his team is going to be, but that will have to wait for the coming weeks.

Sierra Pacific (0-1) went cold on offense and failed to replicate their early success for the rest of the game and lost 21-7 to Reedley (1-1) to open up the 2019 season.

“That was the team we’re going to be,” Tate said. “When people come and see us from here on out … that was who we are.”

After receiving the kickoff, Sierra Pacific came out firing on offense. They converted a third-and-14 from their own 41-yard line with a 15-yard pass to running back Adam Antuna. Then facing another third-and-14, running back Andrew Lehner came up with a 13-yard catch.

On fourth-and-1, it was Antuna carrying the ball up the middle for five yards. Gavin Gamble then made his mark on the drive with a big catch on third-and-15 to set up a first down at the 21-yard line.

A couple plays later, Sierra Pacific quarterback Chad Leslie found the end zone on a 7-yard run on first-and-goal to give the Golden Bears the lead.

“Chad ran the ball well, he threw the ball well tonight,” Tate said. “We just got to back and fix those little things that I saw and I think we’ll be all right.”

The drive consumed a total of seven minutes, 10 seconds and the Golden Bears converted three third downs and a fourth down. They led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The rest of the non-league game was full of ups and downs with turnovers and missed opportunities for the Golden Bears.

A muffed punt in the second quarter gave Reedley the ball at Sierra Pacific’s 15-yard line. The Pirates scored two plays later on a 1-yard run to tie the game.

Sierra Pacific had a 10-play, 67-yard drive come up short at the end of the half as Gamble’s catch over the middle of the field had him tackled at the 8-yard line as time expired. The game was tied 7-7 at halftime.

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The second half was a tough one for the Golden Bears. Their signature run game was heavily limited by the Pirates’ defense and they struggled to advance the ball through the air with Leslie under constant pressure.

As a result, Leslie threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter. The first came when his team faced a fourth-and-15 from Reedley’s 29-yard line. After the turnover, the Pirates marched the ball to the 3-yard line, but a fumbled snap allowed Sierra Pacific defensive end Noah Cabrera to jump on the football for his second recovered fumble of the quarter.

“Well basically it all went down to slow motion,” Cabrera said. “I just seen the ball coming towards me and I just hopped on it. Just kind of instinctual.”

But just two players later, pressure in Leslie’s face forced him to throw the ball from his own end zone and it was intercepted by Reedley’s Abraham Soto at the 6-yard line. The Pirates scored on the very next play on a 6-yard run to take a 13-7 lead after the extra point was blocked.

Frustrations began to mount between players as they pointed fingers, but Tate implored his team to “not turn on each other.” The third-year coach said the interception was his fault and for players to blame him and not each other.

“We got to work as a team, put all our hard work in and dedication,” Sierra Pacific running back Jason Harris said.

The Golden Bears found some rhythm on offense late in the fourth quarter, especially Harris, who caught multiple passes and found running room on the outside. But, again, the offense stalled when Leslie fumbled the football on second-and-goal on the 4-yard line with 50 seconds left in the game.

“I just wanted to get in,” Harris said. “I asked the coach and he got me in and I showed him what I got.”

Reedley sealed the game earlier in the quarter with an 11-play, 52-yard drive ending on a perfectly thrown pass into the end zone on fourth-and-10 from Sierra Pacific’s 14-yard line. The 2-point conversion was successful and the Pirates led by 14.

Sierra Pacific will face Riverdale (1-1) on the road next Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Cowboys won their first game on Friday against Sierra, 43-7. Last season, Riverdale defeated Sierra Pacific 21-7 in week two.

“Right now, we’re still one of the top teams in D-VI,” Tate said. “Teams in D-VI, they have to worry about us. They have to prepare to stop our wing and they have to prepare to stop our spread and we got a few more wrinkles in there that they’ll be seeing in the next few weeks as well.”

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Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or ngarcia@hanfordsentinel.com. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.

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