Oak Ridge’s Preston Dean takes Rocklin to school

Preston Dean’s two touchdown runs in the last half of the fourth quarter broke a tie to give host Oak Ridge High a 21-7 defensive-oriented preseason win over Rocklin Friday night.

Dean went up the middle from 9 yards out with 7:03 left to put the Trojans in the lead before rumbling in for a 35-yard score to seal the deal with 3:13 left. The victory improved Oak Ridge to 2-0 while the Thunder fell to 1-1.

“We knew this would be a tough football game — Rocklin is physical and it’s exactly what we expected,” Troy coach Eric Cavaliere said. “It was a field position game all the way and stayed between the 20s (yard lines). We were able to get some good field position (toward the end) that was key.”

None was better than a poor Rocklin punt with 8:51 left that netted just 6 yards to the Thunder’s 33 yard line. A 15-yard roughing penalty against Oak Ridge quarterback Jason Samuels moved the home team to the 18 where five plays later, Dean powered his way in. Jon David Smith’s point after gave the Trojans a 14-7 advantage.

Dean’s next touchdown was even more electrifying to the Oak Ridge fans who packed the stands. Seemingly stopped at the line of scrimmage, Dean broke several tackles and found daylight around the right side.

“I spun away, switched the ball to my right hand and straight-armed several others. All I thought about was my team — I had a stinger in my neck from earlier but had to put that aside,” Dean said.

The Thunder’s last gasp ended with 2.21 to go when Trojan defensive end Roman Andrus batted away a fourth-down pass and from there Oak Ridge ran out the clock.

Though Troy’s margin of victory was 14 points, two key measurements that came down to a matter of inches were key to the outcome — one on defense, one on offense. Oak Ridge prevailed both times. The first one forced Rocklin to turn the ball over inside the Trojan 10; the next, a run by Jake Rosada on a fake punt, prolonged a possession to help set up Dean’s second touchdown.

“I’ve never seen one (measurement) that close,” Cavaliere said about the latter call. “The tip of the ball was barely into the yard marker and could have gone either way. Stealing that possession so we could put the ball in Preston’s hands and let him physically take over was huge.”

After Oak Ridge running back Josh Wellman scampered in from the 5 midway into the opening quarter for the evening’s first points, each team’s defense stubbornly refused to give ground for the next 25-plus minutes as the game settled into a stalemate.

Trojan defensive back Bobby Gatta’s first of two interceptions stopped the Thunder inside Oak Ridge territory late in the first quarter and his next, near the end of the first half, took away a sure Rocklin touchdown toss to a wide open Jack Wittwer, who lost the handle. Gatta made the grab just before falling out of the end zone.

“I bit on the run and hustled over but thought ‘Oh shoot that’s a touchdown,’ but he (Wittwer) jumped up and the ball first hit his face mask and then his knee and I was able to get it,” Gatta said. “While our defense made some great plays tonight and kept us in the game, I also feel like we got lucky.”

The Thunder pulled even with 3:20 left in the third quarter on Austin Tautu’s 9-yard pass to Cory Burmester.

Rocklin upped its momentum when Stevin Cisneros intercepted Samuels near midfield but Troy stole it right back when Ben Sweet stepped into a passing lane to pick off a pass from Tautu.

Offensively, Samuels was 5-for-14 for 34 yards and was intercepted twice. Dean had 87 yards on 11 carries while Wellman gained 62 on 13 rushes.

The Trojans entertain Cordova Friday night.

Stats are courtesy of Haley Anderson. 

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