Loss to linger for Rocklin football coach

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Greg Benzel’s back will be sore by the time August arrives. Rocklin High School’s football coach will have carried around last Friday night’s Sac-Joaquin Section playoff loss for eight months by then. Disappointment weighs a bit. That is not to say Benzel is disappointed in the efforts of his players. As he begins to reflect on the 2010 season, Benzel will start by taking a long look in the mirror. Rocklin’s reign as the section Division II champion ended with a 22-17 loss to River City in West Sacramento. The Raiders (10-1) were seeded higher at No. 7, but few gave them much of a chance. Thunder fans may have already been looking forward to a second-round battle with 11-0 Grant. The Pacers did their part to make it happen by crushing Will C. Wood of Vacaville in a 54-10 rout. Rocklin (7-4) fell short in more ways than one in the first round. Benzel would rather not count them. A seven-point halftime lead could have been far greater, possibly enough to put River City away. Turn back the calendar to Oct 15 when Rocklin had a 14-0 lead in the fourth quarter against Roseville and lost 28-21. Quarterback Jimmy Laughrea was knocked out Friday after sustaining a concussion in the third quarter. He also suffered one Sept. 3 early in the fourth quarter of Rocklin’s 27-22 loss to Oak Ridge. Losing Laughrea on Friday did not derail Rocklin. Squandered scoring opportunities were the culprit. “We have arguably the best quarterback we’ll ever have at this school,” Benzel said. “We should have had 21 points in the first half, if not 28, against a team that was clearly not in our league.” The Raiders can chuckle at that comment and point at the scoreboard, but Benzel is not laughing. Benzel calls the plays. Now he has eight months to wonder whether he called the right ones Friday. There will also be ample time for Benzel to think about going for a two-point conversion and not getting it in a 42-41 loss to Granite Bay on Oct. 29. His brain will not have much of an offseason. The coaches will be held accountable, Benzel said, more so than anyone else. “I don’t think we as coaches ever go home after a game and say the players didn’t get it done,” he said. “The players take responsibility to some degree, but we set the table for the players.” Benzel remembers when fans approached him before the season kicked off and asked how the Thunder would fare without the likes of Jackson Cummings, Daniel Lessard and Holden Huff. Those questions will be coming again after Laughrea, Brian Macdonald and Nick Cooper graduate. Benzel has yet to formally bid farewell to his seniors. Without another game, the time will come. “We told the seniors after the game that we were proud of them,” Benzel said. “When you’ve been through so much together, there’s a lot of affection there. There’s going to be some emotion.”