SACRAMENTO — A pooch and an onside kicks in the second half worked perfectly for the Oak Ridge High football team Friday night in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game against Granite Bay.
But the Grizzlies’ Fly offense proved to be too much, beating the Trojans 35-23 victory at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex at the Sacramento State campus. This was the second consecutive year Granite Bay has beaten Oak Ridge in post-season; the Grizzlies beat the Trojans, 21-12, in last year’s quarterfinal game in Granite Bay. Since 1986, the Trojans (12-2) have played in eight section title games. Granite Bay (11-3) won its second consecutive D-I title; the Grizzlies beat the Trojans’ Delta River League rival, Pleasant Grove, in last year’s title game.
Behind 14-3 at halftime, Oak Ridge trimmed Granite Bay’s lead to 14-9 with 8:43 in the third quarter when Trojans wide receiver Jacob Sipes hauled in a 19-yard pass from quarterback Jason Samuels. On the kickoff, feeling his team had the momentum swung in their direction, Trojans head coach Eric Cavaliere called for a pooch kick that went about 15 yards. Oak Ridge wide receiver Chad Augood recovered the ball at the Grizzlies’ 43-yard line.
“It’s something we planned for, kicking into the wind,” Cavaliere said. “We had to hang that thing up there, make a play on it.”
The Trojans marched to the Grizzlies’ 10-yard line, thanks largely to pin-point precise passes from Samuels, who competed an 18-yard and 6-yard passes to tight end Ross Dwelley that gave Oak Ridge first downs on the drive. But the Grizzlies’ defense sacked Samuels and forced an incomplete pass to turn the ball over on downs.
Dwelly, a two-sport athlete who is a pitcher on the school’s baseball team, had 9 receptions for 105 yards. He used his 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame to his advantage over the Grizzlies’ secondary by running multiple routes for big yards.
“I’ve never seen hands like his,” Trojans wide receiver Justin Priest said. “He’s physical; he doesn’t go down very easily. If he gets the ball in his hands, it’s guaranteed to be a play.”
Cavaliere added, “Ross is a stud. He catches everything thrown his way. He was definitely the go-to guy we knew we could count on.”
Granite Bay scored again on its ensuing drive when running back Tony Ellison scored on an 11-yard run with 2:15 left in the quarter to make it 21-9. The Grizzlies increased their lead to 28-9 in the fourth quarter at 10:47 when fullback Taft Partridge went off-tackle and found open space for a 47-yard run.
But the fighting Troys were just as determined to pull out a come-from-behind win. Samuels, who completed 25-of-49 passes for 314 yards in his final prep football game, hit Priest on two passes on the drive that set up for running back Blake Martin, who scored on a 2-yard run with 9:11 left in the game to cut the lead to 28-17.
“We never quit,” Trojans lineman Kareem Ballal said. “We are a team that will fight to the finish. We did that tonight and I’m very proud of them.”
Granite Bay wasted little time in scoring its final touchdown of the game. Ellison cut back inside and raced up the field for an 84-yard touchdown with 8:51 left. The extra-point kick by Colin Brown made it 35-17.
Oak Ridge responded on its next drive that ended when Samuels found wide receiver Bryon Spain on a 19-yard pass with 6:52 left. The Trojans went for the 2-point conversion, a pass that was incomplete to leave it at 35-23.
Cavaliere called for another onside kick that was recovered again by the Trojans. But the Trojans turned the ball over on loss of downs at the Grizzlies’ 12-yard line.
“We were down big time, and they just kept fighting,” Cavaliere said.
Oak Ridge had another chance toward the end of the fourth quarter, moving the ball down to Granite Bay’s 15-yard line. But Grizzly inside linebacker Cameron Smith picked off a Samuel pass to end the threat with 2:20 left. Granite Bay picked up two first downs and ended the game lining up in victory formation for the win.
Granite Bay scored its touchdown in the first quarter with 7:40 left when running back John Cooley scored on a 5-yard run. Oak Ridge scored its only points in the first half on a Ryan Lamb 27-yard field goal with an even four minutes left to make it 7-3. The third and final score of first half came with 28 seconds left in the quarter when Grizzly quarterback Grant Caraway hit tight end Steven Graber on a 9-yard pass.
The Trojans finished with 431 total yards and the Grizzlies had 606 yards that included 549 yards on 51 carries. Partridge had 11 carries for 235 yards for the Grizzlies. Trojans linebacker Nick Gordon had 17 tackles, followed by Sipes from his defensive back spot with 12 and defensive back Colton Giorgi with 11.
After the game, Trojan players and coaches huddled at the south end zone. Tears flowed on the faces on most of the players, most of whom are seniors while Cavaliere and his assistant coaches gave their post-game speeches. Many players stayed on the field before returning to the locker room in a game that they will not soon forget.
“This is the first time that this program has seen a Week 14,” Cavaliere said. “We were predicted as a 5-5 team (by the Elk Grove Citizen) and the guys just took that as a slap in the face. We knew what we had in spring football; there was a certain excitement about this football team. A good group of guys who really wanted to play for each other.”