Defenses key as Rocklin stops Granite Bay

Three turnovers, 11 big penalties harm Grizzlies
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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The offensive showcase many expected at Granite Bay Friday night never materialized, and instead a defensive slugfest broke out. Two teams that have a tendency to put the points on the scoreboard found the going tough among the higher echelon teams of the Sierra Foothill League. Taking full advantage of the chances presented to it, Rocklin kept its unbeaten record intact as it took care of the Grizzlies 14-7. “We have been playing this team for 14 years,” said Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper. “They know us and we know them. We knew coming in that our defense would be there and we expected theirs would be too.” Rocklin coach Greg Benzel was a bit more surprised at the low-scoring game. “I didn’t expect it to be this kind of game,” Benzel said. “Granite Bay is a great team and it is a credit to them that they held us down throughout the first half.” The defenses were tough, but the difference in this game may well have been three Granite Bay turnovers and 11 Grizzly penalties for 113 yards, most of them coming at the most inopportune times. “We shot ourselves in the foot tonight,” Cooper said. “If you’re going to play undisciplined football, you won’t win the major games. I think that is what our guys learned tonight.” Three-and-out was the order of the day for most of the first half as both teams struggled to get anything going offensively. Granite Bay did a better job moving the football and took a 7-0 lead in the opening stanza on a 10-yard run by flyback Matt Kine. The high-flying Thunder offensive unit was essentially grounded before intermission, as Rocklin generated just 77 yards of first-half offense and trailed by seven at the break. Rocklin’s best chance to even the game during the first half came just after the start of the second quarter. “We know that no one can stop our offense,” said Rocklin quarterback Jimmy Laughrea. “We were off in the first half, but our coaches challenged us and we got it together.” The first Granite Bay turnover, a fumble, gave Rocklin the ball at their own 42-yard-line. The Thunder bit off 35 yards on the first play, courtesy a Laughrea toss to Holden Huff. A swing pass to Jackson Cummings moved the ball to the 15, but a holding penalty essentially killed it there and Rocklin ended up turning the ball over on downs. Largely on the strength of a 28-yard Kine run on a double-reverse, the Grizzlies ran off 41 yards on nine plays before a 45-yard field goal attempt fell short of its mark. Just before the halftime break, Granite Bay got the ball back with 35 seconds to play. After he hit Ian Rhodes for 25 yards to move the ball to the Rocklin 33, Granite Bay signal caller Brendan Keeney passed on a short gain while scrambling to try for something bigger down the field, but he was past the line of scrimmage. The illegal forward pass helped stall the late Grizzly drive and the teams went to the break with Granite Bay clinging to a 7-0 advantage. The first half was dominated by defense, and particularly the Granite Bay unit, with Jacob Kludjian, Mike Wade and Andrew Knapp flying to the ball. “Jimmy (Laughrea) was frustrated in the first half, but it was largely the way Granite Bay was playing us,” Benzel said. “He showed great courage in the way he came back out and he made some big plays for us to pick up first downs.” The Rocklin defense was right there with them, keeping its team in the game through the first 24 minutes, led by outstanding linebacker play from Daniel Lessard and Sean Moore, and some nice plays in the secondary by Andrew McEwan and Scott Polaske. “The coaches had a great plan coming in and we expected to come up big,” Lessard said. “Our defense stepped up and we refused to lose to Granite Bay. We knew how big this game was, with our being 6-0 and all.” “Our defense rallied to keep us in the game in the first half,” Benzel said. “They kept us in until we could get it going on offense in the second half. That was the difference in the game.” The Thunder did begin to move the ball after intermission, beginning with their first drive of the second half. Rocklin missed a field goal after a 41-yard Laughrea to Holden Huff pass play put them in position early in the third quarter, but the whole outlook of the game changed on the ensuing Granite Bay possession. Mixing run and pass expertly, the Grizzlies moved from their own 20 to the Rocklin eight before the drive stalled. As Adam Angulo banged home the field goal to extend the margin to 10 points, the Thunder were called for roughing the kicker. Cooper elected to take the three points off the board and take the penalty that put the ball at the four-yard-line. What followed that decision was a cascade of bad things for Granite Bay, and before they could stop the avalanche, the Grizzlies found themselves behind on the scoreboard. “First-and-goal at the four, I take that every time,” Cooper said in discussing the decision to take the three points off the scoreboard. After a two-yard running play, as Cooper tried in vain to get a timeout called, quarterback Brendan Keeney took the snap and proceeded to fumble the ball away at the two-yard-line. “We had the wrong personnel in there,” Cooper said. “I tried to call timeout, but did not get it done. We had the right play called, but the player who was supposed to get the ball was not on the field.” The 17-play Granite Bay march came up empty, and Rocklin answered with 98 yards in seven plays, aided by consecutive personal fouls at the end of a 37-yard pass play to Kyle Garvella. Laughrea hit Huff for the score from 14 yards out. After a Grizzly three-and-out, the Thunder put the dagger in on the first play of their next possession, a 75-yard catch and run by the same combination. Granite Bay responded with a march of its own, taking the ball from its own 20-yard-line and moving it to the Rocklin 25. A corner route to Rhodes appeared to draw heavy contact from the Thunder defender in the end zone, but no flag was thrown and after another incompletion, the Grizzlies turned the ball over on downs at the Rocklin 25. Granite Bay got as far as the Rocklin 41, with a clutch 22-yard Tanner Holt catch almost erasing a 14-yard sack. From there, the Thunder ran the clock, slowing only to take another 15 yards on a Grizzly personal foul. “This was a great character win for this team,” Benzel said. “We hadn’t faced adversity this year, but Granite Bay is a great team and we faced it tonight. This is huge for our program and for our school. It was a great win.” Granite Bay falls to 0-2 in the SFL (5-2 overall) as they prepare to visit Roseville (0-2, 2-5) next Friday night. Rocklin (2-0, 7-0) will host Oakmont (1-1, 5-2) next week.