EL DORADO HILLS — Squaring off the last time as non league opponents, the Oak Ridge Trojans and Rocklin Thunder football teams treated fans to a preview of a typical Sierra Foothill League game next year — plenty of offense, key defensive stops and down to the wire action. Oak Ridge made the final big plays, holding off Rocklin, 23-21.
“We definitely faced some adversity tonight,” said Oak Ridge head coach Eric Cavaliere. “We had moments tonight where we needed big stops and big plays and we got them. It’s a credit to our kids; they never quit and never got discouraged.”
After trading several first quarter possessions, the Thunder found pay dirt first, as Logan Webb found Laurin Blake on a 69-yard catch and run. Troy countered behind the passing of Ian Book (22-of-36 passing, 242 yards), who connected on three of four passes to quickly move the ball downfield.
Josh Wellman added two runs for 30 yards, 24 of them putting the ball down to the 1 yard line. From there Tanner Hughes bullied his way into the end zone to cut the lead to 7-6.
“I really thought the key tonight was that we were able to run the ball pretty well against them,” said Cavaliere. “We had some success running and it really opened some things up on the edge for us.”
Wellman led way with 72 of the Trojans 113 yards on the ground.
Rocklin’s next possession ended when Troy’s Drew Lackowski played a Webb pass perfectly and came away with the interception. 11 plays and 61 yards later the Trojans were back in the end zone as Book connected with Jacob Sipes on a 2-yard fade route to the corner.
“Watching film we noticed the receiver would sometimes do a little stutter step,” explained Lackowski. “As soon as I saw him do that I was able to turn my hips and make a play on the ball and fortunately came away with it.”
A quick three and out series by Rocklin and Oak Ridge (2-0) was back to work, needing just seven plays to reach the end zone. Book’s second touchdown of the night, a 35-yard pass to Trent Buenzli, gave the Trojans a 20-7 lead.
“We knew we had to make some plays in the passing game,” said Book. “We were able to run the ball well and that opened things up. We did a good job of staying calm and staying focused on the game plan.”
Sensing momentum swinging away from it, Rocklin answered back with an eight-play, 65 yard drive to score with just 52 second left in the half. Following a timeout, Webb found a wide open Blake for a 20 yard score and cut the Trojans’ lead to 20-14.
“That score right before half was big,” said Rocklin coach Greg Benzel. “It definitely gave us boost going into halftime, especially after they (Oak Ridge) reeled off the three straight scores. Tonight was a battle and it was one of those games where somebody had to win and somebody had to lose.”
After trading possession to start the second half the Trojans used a 10-play, 53-yard drive to push their lead to 23-14, as Ryan Lamb connected on a 25-yard field goal. The Trojans’ Thomas Mahlman intercepted Webb on the ensuing Thunder drive but Troy couldnt capitalize on the turnover before turning the ball over on downs.
After two big Oak Ridge penalties moved the ball deep into Trojan territory, Rocklin (0-2) closed the lead to 23-21 as Webb hooked up with Sklyer Gonzales on a 2-yard score. The Trojans quickly moved the chains, but two straight incompletions stalled the drive and turned the ball over on downs at the Rocklin 21.
“Our defense was playing well and we thought with field position, we could take a shot,” said Cavaliere about the Trojans going for it on fourth and seven. “We felt comfortable with putting our defense out there to get a stop.”
Needing a score to take the lead, the Thunder benefited from two costly personal foul penalties against Troy, quickly getting them to midfield, only to give back yards on a holding penalty. Four plays later the Thunder punted the ball away.
“We were able to take advantage of some of the penalties in the first half,” said Benzel.
Added Cavaliere “The penalties really put us in a bad spot. But the guys didn’t complain and start pointing fingers; they just went on to the next play.”
With the game still in doubt the Trojans got two big first downs, as Book and Justin Priest connected for an 8-yard gain on a third-and-six play. Two plays later Colton Giorgi iced the game with a 20 yard run.
“That play was just the play we needed,” said Cavaliere. “Justin made a great catch and (Ian) Book was able to check to the right guy and got us a big first down. Whether it was offense or defense, when we needed a big play, we got it.”
Buenzli led the Trojans with 91 yards receiving on four catches. Sipes added 51 on eight catches, while Preist and Wellman added 44 and 41 on four catches each.