After their last game against Washington of Fremont, Oak Ridge football coach Eric Cavaliere was already ahead of the rest of the team.
“It’s the most important game on our schedule,” he said after the win against the Huskies, referring to Friday’s test against area powerhouse Grant. The Trojans passed with flying colors — thrashing the visiting Pacers 42-14 to become only the third Oak Ridge team to beat Grant and the first in nine years.
“I’m very happy to see how we played as a unit,” Cavaliere said after Troy improved their record to 4-0 on the season.
Kicking off to start the game, Oak Ridge took a huge risk and attempted an onside kick. The Trojans didn’t recover and a penalty gave Grant the ball at the Trojan 36-yard line to start. Oak Ridge’s defense tightened up, forcing a Grant incompletion on a 4th-and-6.
The teams traded punts and after a first down pass to Byron Spain, Trojan quarterback Jason Samuels (21-of-32, 263 yards, three touchdowns) faked a handoff and found Trent Beunzli for a 33-yard gain to the Grant 10. Following a Blake Martin rush to the 5 yard line and an incompletion, Samuels found fullback Tanner Hughes on third down for the first touchdown of the game. Kicker Ryan Lamb’s point-after-attempt rang true, and the Trojans took a 7-0 lead with 2:44 left in the opening quarter.
“If you get in the red zone, you need to score a touchdown, especially against a good team opponent like Grant,” Samuels said. “We did our jobs tonight.” Oak Ridge scored a touchdown on all five of their red zone opportunities.
Grant immediately answered as Darrion Jeffrey took a Isaiah Rios pass and outran the Oak Ridge secondary before stumbling at the 1 yard line. After a couple of stuffs by Oak Ridge, Deondre Grays burst through the line and scored to even the score with 9:55 left in the second quarter. Oak Ridge retook the lead after a Pacer pass interference call gave the Trojans possession at Grant’s 42. Troy converted a 4th and 5, followed by a 4th and 1 conversion where Hughes ran straight up the gut for the Trojan touchdown.
“It was all the O-line. They made great blocks, and that really gave us a big push,” Hughes said. The two touchdowns Hughes scored were his first varsity touchdowns and came at critical junctures.
Grant’s quick strike offense tied the game again on Jeffrey’s 66-yard catch and run. With the game tied at 14 and minutes left in the half, Samuels and Oak Ridge took over. Under heavy pressure, Samuels scampered out of the pocket and found Byron Spain (4 catches, 65 yards) for a 36-yard touchdown to give the Trojans a 21-14 lead at the break.
Josh Wellman received the kickoff to open the second half for the Trojans and ran 30 yards to give Oak Ridge the ball at the 40. Hughes ran for 6 yards and after a pass to Jacob Sipes (7 catches, 76 yards) for a first down, Hughes reeled in a pass and rumbled 27 yards to set up a diving catch on a 12-yard touchdown to Ross Dwelley as Oak Ridge doubled its lead.
“We have a lot of weapons on this team. We don’t have any superstars, which is something I love. It’s just the next guy stepping up and doing their job, and when they have an opportunity to make a play, making a play,” Cavaliere said.
The Trojans defense shut down the Pacer offense in the second half. Following the Oak Ridge drive to open the half, Kareem Ballal got pressure on Rios, forcing an errant throw that Victor Bunce intercepted near midfield. Another long drive culminated in a Jerricho Hallare touchdown from the 1 yard line to give Oak Ridge a three-possession lead near the end of the third quarter.
Thomas Mahlman grabbed another interception and Martin scored a late touchdown to conclude the scoring.
Oak Ridge next takes its undefeated record to Vacaville, coach Cavaliere’s alma mater, to play the Bulldogs who are 2-1.