Sonora High and Summerville are separated by only 8.9 miles. From Sonora, take Highway 108 due east and exit at the Tuolumne sign, and in a few minutes you’re there.
“There” is Summerville’s Thorsted Field, the hillside stadium in Tuolumne where the Mother Lode League championship will be decided Friday night. Summerville (9-0, 4-0) and Sonora (7-2, 4-0) collide for the highest stakes this side of an old gold miner’s strike.
One caveat: Don’t call it a rivalry, says Summerville coach Sean Leveroos.
“Rivalries go back and forth,” Leveroos reasoned. “How can it be a rivalry when you haven’t won in six decades?”
Leveroos, Summerville Class of 1995 and the Bears’ head coach since 2015, has a point. Summerville is 0-8 vs. Sonora since the Wildcats left the Valley Oak League for the Mother Lode in 2014. In fact, the Sonora football team has lost exactly once in the MLL – to Amador of Sutter Creek three years ago – during its reign.
Records are sketchy. Both schools are over a century old – many years passed between the schools’ football meetings -- but Leveroos and other sources say Summerville’s last win over Sonora was in the early 1960s. Another thing: Sonora always has enjoyed a hefty edge in enrollment.
But attendance counts and faded history pages sometimes have nothing to do with what goes on beneath the Friday night lights. The 2022 Summerville Bears have a chance to jot their name in capital letters in school lore.
“Nothing would be bigger than us getting a victory,” Leveroos said.
Summerville’s task is daunting. Sonora’s only losses came in the season opener to Oakdale in overtime after a big lead got away, and last week 53-51 to Antelope on homecoming. Antelope was an 11th-hour replacement after Bret Harte, low on personnel, forfeited. Sonora also earned attention in September with a 28-20 victory over Hilmar.
The Wildcats are led by a future FBS player, senior lineman Roger Alderman (6-foot-5, 250 pounds). Alderman, promoted to the varsity for the postseason as a freshman, ended a long recruiting process in September by committing to Utah.
Alderman’s long shadow often has hidden another gem on the line in teammate Tyler Sells (6-3, 230). The duo underlines strength upfront, an advantage against Summerville.
“Alderman definitely has proven why he’s got that free ride,” said Bryan Craig, the Sonora head coach in his 14th season. “Tyler has had a good year, too. He gets overlooked.”
Quarterback Adam Curnow, the brother of former Sonora quarterback Bradley Curnow, hands it off to several running backs. A pleasant surprise this season is junior Audie Peeples (595 yards), and junior Bryce Nicolson has scored seven touchdowns.
Curnow will throw to Chance Pimentel (four touchdowns), but power and defense are Sonora’s game. The Wildcats have allowed only 12 points per game, and that included last week.
Most Sonora-Summerville games have not been close recently, though the Wildcats’ 37-27 victory in 2017 was competitive. But this season, the Bears unfurled new claws with two noteworthy early-season wins over a three-week span – 34-28 over Dos Palos and 23-14 over Hughson.
Those victories hiked the Bears to No. 2 in frontrowpreps.com’s small-schools rankings behind Sonora.
Leveroos literally has skin – two sons -- on this year’s team. Senior Braylon Leveroos is the versatile quarterback, and freshman Bryce Leveroos starts on defense. Braylon Leveroos’ zone-reads with senior Kai Elkins accent the Summerville attack along with passes to Auston Hike and Bradley “Dean” Trimeloni.
The Bears hope to neutralize the Sonora line with Jayden Hardie and twins Jordan and Reece Wynne.
“Summerville is solid. It’s hard to (go unbeaten),” Craig said. “The game just seems to mean more this time.”
Simply, Summerville will be the underdog.
One of the charms of this game, however, is the mutual familiarity. Many players on both sides have competed against and with each other in youth athletics and later at the prep level. They know each other by their first names.
“Our seniors have been together since they were 10,” Leveroos said. “It’s an easy team to coach when your best players also are your hardest workers.”
The Mother Lode has been a disjointed league this year as Bret Harte struggled with its first varsity team since 2019. Amador scrapped its season after three games due to a reported racially-tinged chat thread involving the team.
“All these things and COVID just made it weird. It’s been an up-and-down thing,” Craig said. “I don’t think we’re back to being normal yet.”
What everyone can accept is that Sonora and Summerville pace the MLL this season, and they’ll decide matters Friday night.
“Sonora is the biggest front we’ll see this season,” Leveroos said. “We’ll have to find ways to be creative.”