The Wildfires started their 2018 campaign with a solid road win against a game Turlock Christian squad 36 - 24, avenging last year's 28 - 26 overtime loss to the Eagles. Quarterback Kaiden Pennington led the charge, running for 2 touchdowns while also throwing a touchdown to Wide Receiver Elias Estrada. Running Back Brody Siefker’s short touchdown run put the 'Fires ahead late in the 4th quarter. Estrada then followed with a spectacular 75 yard pick six to ice the see-saw affair. Cornerback Nick Lechner was a man possessed on the defensive side of the ball, laying the lumber all night. Second year head coach Steve Collier praised the o-line,which allowed just one sack of Pennington.
The boys from Esparto came calling for the Wildfires home opener. The Spartans raced to a 30 - 8 halftime lead, cruising to a 38 - 15 victory. Wide Receiver Caleb Medrano caught 2 touchdown passes, accounting for all of the Wildfires scoring. Quarterback Chet Matz relieved an injured Pennington, and promptly tossed a TD pass, finishing the night 3-3 with 42 yards through the air.
Game 3 meant a long trek to Portola for the Wildfires. Fortunately, the boys in Maroon and Gold jumped out to a 14 - 0 halftime lead, courtesy of a TD reception from Wide Receiver Cole Moore and a touchdown run by Estrada. The defense stood tall, limiting the Tigers to just 6 points, escaping with a narrow 14 to 6 victory. Moore and Pennington each had an interception, while Lechner totaled 87 yards on 6 grabs for the 2 - 1 Wildfires.
Next on the docket was a road trip to Vacaville Christian for the travel weary Wildfires. The talented Falcons took an early 20 - 0 lead before Steven Radford and Casey Baldwin got the Wildfires on the board by recording a safety right before intermission. Estrada then took the opening kickoff of the 2nd half to the house, bringing the score to 20 - 10. That's as close as the Wildfires would get though, eventually falling 41 to 10. Baldwin later added a fumble recovery, while Defensive End Trace Hendrickson and Safety Caleb Westphalen each tallied a sack. Lechner led the receivers with 6 catches for 92 yards while RB Ezra Aldrich churned out 45 yards on the ground, as the Wildfires fell to 2 - 2.
The final non-league contest brought Hiram Johnson to Sebastian Stadium for a little Friday night football. The Warriors started quickly, and carried a 22 - 0 lead into the locker room at the break. The Wildfires answered early in the second half on a beautiful touchdown pass from Pennington to Moore, closing the gap to 22 - 6. However, any chance of a Wildfires comeback was quickly thwarted by a myriad of turnovers, including two fumbles inside the Warriors ten-yard line. Linebacker Drew Stroup and Pennington each had fumble recoveries, but the home squad took it on the chin 42 - 6.
Injuries and a small team have taken its toll on Coach Collier’s crew, who head into their bye week with a record of 2 – 3 after a tough non-league schedule. The Wildfires will have two weeks to get healthy and prepare for league play, which begins September 28th at home vs. Western Sierra Collegiate Academy. The Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League (SMAL) appears to be up for grabs this year, and the battle tested Wildfires plan to figure prominently in the race for a league title.