Oak Ridge holds on in tense finish
With powerful rushing, timely defense and clutch special teams play, host Oak Ridge held off a late surge from the Pitman Pride to win Friday’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I quarterfinals 17-16.
The win moves the Trojans into Saturday’s semifinals at Burbank which beat Pleasant Grove 32-27. Oak Ridge beat the Titans last year to open the postseason.
“Right now I’m just enjoying the win. It’s kind of amazing that this is the farthest we’ve gotten in D-I, so we’re going to enjoy this,” Trojan quarterback Jason Samuels said.
Trailing 17-10 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Pride had the ball at their 23-yard line with a chance to tie the score. A Logan Wolfley run around the left side gave Pitman a first down at the Oak Ridge 47 before Troy stopped Brent Nelle short of the first down marker on third-and-7.
The Pride went for it on fourth down and converted to the Oak Ridge 32. Mario Lewis got another first down to the 18 and Wolfley followed with an 11-yard run to the Trojan 7.
After a touchdown saving tackle from Chad Augood, Lewis waltzed into the end zone on third down from the 5, placing Pitman a point-after conversion away from tying the game with 2:17 left in the game.
Attempting the two-point conversion for the lead, Oak Ridge made its biggest play of the season when Trojan linebacker Thomas Mahlman snuck into the backfield and dragged down Lewis short of the goal as Oak Ridge maintained a one point lead with 2:12 left.
The Pride attempted an onside kick, but the kick bounced out-of-bounds and Oak Ridge got the ball back at its 41-yard line, looking to run the clock out.
After a short run, Samuels found fullback Tanner Hughes out of the backfield for a gain of 8 yards that set up a third-and-one. Josh Wellman was stopped short but punter Jacob Sipes pinned the Pride at their own 12-yard line with 1:28 left.
Staying true to its commitment to the run, Pitman fed Nelle on first down, and he rewarded them with a 13 yard run. After a short run, Wyatt Clapper dropped back to pass, but his deep throw fell incomplete, and the Pride faced a third-and-5. Wolfley rushed for the first down, but after the ensuing snap was fumbled, Clapper spiked the ball with half a minute remaining.
Clapper came back and threw a dart to Justin Van Fleet at midfield, and Pitman ran up to spike the ball. But the snap was juggled again, and after a scrum, Mahlman emerged with ball in hand. The Trojan offense came out in the victory formation, and Oak Ridge closed out the narrow victory.
“We just didn’t give up, and didn’t let any of their big plays get to us,” Augood said. “We kept attacking and saying ‘We’ll get it, we’ll get it’ and we finally got it.”
Pitman received the opening kickoff, and after a quick first down, punted away to the Trojans. Oak Ridge scored first, taking a 7-0 lead to the second quarter after a 9-yard hookup from Samuels to Hughes. The Trojans added to that lead and seemingly took control after an amazing sequence where Ross Dwelley broke three arm tackles en route to an emphatic 32-yard touchdown.
Pitman scored late in the first half on a Nelle on a 5-yard rushing touchdown around the right side, and Troy led 14-7 at the half.
Oak Ridge started out the second half with the ball, and subsequently drove down the field and Ryan Lamb added to the lead with a 34-yard field goal that made it a two possession game at 17-7. But Pitman came right back and booted through a field goal of its own, setting up the spectacular finish.
The Trojan defense came up with three fumble recoveries, two by Mahlman, and an amazing one-handed interception from a sprinting Sipes. The Oak Ridge seniors, playing in their last home game of their career, were filled with emotion.
“It’s surreal. I’m almost speechless. We just don’t want it to end,” Augood said.
Samuels added, “Right now I’m just savoring this and taking in the environment. But we have to come out here on Monday and get ready.”