Servite tops Rocklin with field goal on final play to win state championship

By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
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Servite High’s Nicholas Echeverry kicked a 23-yard field goal with no time left on the clock as the Friars defeated the Rocklin Thunder 33-30 in Saturday night’s CIF State Football Championship Bowl game for Division II at The Home Depot Center in Carson. Both teams finished the season 14-1. The Thunder players had wet faces from tears after this wild game. But their heads were held high. As they should have been. Rocklin trailed 14-0 early, 27-10 at the half and 30-10 late in the third quarter – but it never lost hope. The Thunder kept fighting with everything they had. “Emotional,” said teary-eyed Rocklin junior lineman Nick Cooper about what the Thunder locker room was like after the game. “We’re sad because it’s over and not because we lost.” Thunder coach Greg Benzel was very proud of his guys, who went 4-6 just a season ago. “We’ve been living by faith and not by sight,” Benzel said. “You can accomplish an awful lot by having faith in each other and we demonstrated that tonight . . . The bottom line is that these guys have proved that they can play with anybody . . . and we’re crying because it’s the last time we’re together.” Rocklin scored three touchdowns in a time span of 5:55 to tie the game 30-30 with 8:51 to go in the fourth quarter. Thunder senior Tiger Sorenson, who has started at receiver all year, was the quarterback because junior quarterback Jimmy Laughrea broke his left arm in last week’s section-title victory over Del Oro. “You have to feel good (about the comeback),” Sorenson said. “In the first half we didn’t show up a little bit but we came out (of halftime) and we believed and we put up three touchdowns and tied the game at 30.” Sorenson threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to 6-foo-6 senior receiver Holden Huff to make it 30-17 with 2:46 left in the third quarter. Huff was being covered 1-on-1 and Sorenson lofted him the ball in the back of the northeast end zone. It was a 12-play, 80-yard drive that also featured a 35-yard catch from fullback Sean Moore. “Throw it up to the big man and let him go get it,” said Sorenson, who continually found Huff for big plays throughout the night. Huff also caught a 29-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to make it 14-7 Servite. He finished with six catches for 100 yards. “I’m proud of our guys. I’m proud of us – our family. And that’s what we are. A family,” Huff said. “I believed in our guys and we showed a lot of heart. We knew we’d come out strong in the second half . . . I believe in our guys and I still do. I want to play (Servite) again and have another chance.” Rocklin’s defense, which kept the powerful Servite offense out of the end zone in the second half, then forced the Friars to punt after three plays after Huff’s touchdown grab made it 30-17. Thunder senior running back Jackson Cummings returned this punt, Servite’s first of the game, 23 yards to Rocklin’s own 46. And you could feel the momentum shifting at The Home Depot Center. Rocklin was in the end zone four plays later as Cummings powered up the middle for a 17-yard score (Vincent Barrow’s extra point was blocked) with 11:47 left in the game. Cummings ran the final 15 yards with just one shoe, making a cut to ditch a defender just before reaching the end zone. Sorenson hit senior Kyle Garvella for a 26-yard gain on the play before the touchdown. Suddenly it was 30-23 and the fans on the Servite side were very quiet. The Rocklin fans were going nuts. They believed. So did the Rocklin players. “Our fans were great – they got us going and we fed off their energy,” Sorenson said. Rocklin’s defense then held Servite to another 3-and-out and Cummings returned the punt 17 yards to Servite’s 48. Four plays later Rocklin was celebrating again, this time after Cummings’ rammed the ball up the middle from a yard out for a score. Two plays earlier he had broken through the Servite defense for a 37-yard run. A facemask penalty at the end of the play gave the Rocklin the ball on the 3-yard-line. Rocklin senior Andrew Hunter drilled the extra point to tie the game at 30 with 8:51 to go. Servite started the ensuing drive at its own 26 but the drive came to a sudden stop when junior Jody Thomas fumbled the ball away just inside Rocklin's two-yard line. Garvella forced the fumble and Moore, a linebacker, recovered with 2:35 left in this bowl game. After a two-yard run by Cummings, Sorenson was intercepted by Servite’s Jordan Jones at the Rocklin 27-yard-line with 1:51 left. Rocklin’s defense remained very stingy and it appeared that it had put the Friars’ into a third-and-12 at the 29. However a horse-collar penalty was called on Rocklin on the third-down play, giving Servite a first down just inside Rocklin’s 15 with 1:12 remaining. Servite ran three times for a total of five yards and Echeverry booted the field goal to give the Friars’ a state championship. Echeverry was arguably the game’s MVP. Echeverry was 4-for-4 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points. He converted field goals from 47 yards (made it 17-7 with 52 seconds left in the first quarter), 39 yards (27-10, as time expired in the first half), 43 yards (30-10, 6:30 left in third quarter) and 23 yards (game-winner as time expired). His 43-yard kick was made despite a running-into-the-kicker penalty that was declined. "He was unbelievable,” said Garvella about Echeverry. Servite junior Connor Loftus was the kickoff specialist and he was a perfect 7-for-7 in getting touchbacks on kickoffs, thus not allowing Cummings to hurt them with the electrifying returns that Rocklin fans have grown accustomed to over the years. Servite jumped ahead 14-0 with two touchdowns six minutes into the game. Senior quarterback Cody Fajardo scored from one yard out with 8:19 left in the opening quarter after an interception gave the Friars the ball at the Rocklin 33. Then Christian Long returned a punt 55 yards for a score 2:30 after the Fajardo touchdown. Rocklin responded with an eight-play drive for 80 yards that ended with Sorenson’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Huff. Big plays on the drive included a 21-yard pass from Cummings to Garvella and a 15-yard run by Cummings. Servite closed the first quarter with a field goal by Echeverry but Rocklin answered with a field goal of its own (22 yards by Barrow) to make it 17-10 with 9:23 left in the opening half. Rocklin drove 75 yards in nine plays to set up the field goal. Key plays included completions of 36 and 15 yards from Sorenson to Huff. Servite answered with a 61-yard touchdown pass, on a bomb, from Fajardo to Rudy Guerrero to make it 24-10 with 7:14 left in the half. Rocklin again took the ball down the field, mixing the run and the pass, but a 27-yard field-goal attempt by Barrow was no good. Echeverry kicked a 39-yard field goal as the first half closed to make it 27-10. The Thunder came out of the locker room first and they came out confident to start the second half. Cooper recovered a Fajardo fumble (forced by Rocklin's BJ Roberts) on the opening possession of the half with the Thunder taking over at Servite’s 27. But Rocklin turned the ball over on downs without gaining a yard. Servite then drove into Rocklin territory and converted a field goal to make it 30-10 with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter. Rocklin fired back with the three touchdowns to tie the game. Sorenson finished the game 15-of-30 passing for 241 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. “Made a mistake and they responded,” said Sorenson about the late interception. “I’m torn up a little bit – it’s because I love these guys and you don’t get that kind of brotherhood anywhere else. I play baseball too and you don’t get it there (to the level that you do in football). It’s crazy.” Sorenson hadn’t started a game at quarterback since September of 2008 when he broke his collarbone. “I would have rather played receiver after playing that all year,” Sorenson said. “Jimmy deserved to be here but he went down.” Laughrea was 157-for-287 passing this season with 2,635 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for six touchdowns. Benzel was very proud of Sorenson. “Tiger stepped up and showed so much composure and so much poise,” Benzel said. Sorenson was able to put this incredible season into perspective. “Last year we went 4-6 and who would have thought we’d be down in Carson playing for the state championship?” It was a loss but Garvella (four catches, 79 yards; forced late fumble) was very proud of how the Thunder played on Saturday and all season long. “Everyone just talked about how proud we are of everyone and how great a team we’ve become,” said Garvella about the locker-room mood after the loss. “Going 4-6 last year and then going 14-1 and losing at the last second . . . At halftime (down 27-10) everyone knew we had a chance.” Cummings rushed 29 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He finished his senior season with 42 total touchdowns and 2.406 rushing yards on 342 carries. Fajardo, who rushed 19 times for 82 yards, a score and a fumble, also completed 12-of-21 passes for 182 yards and a score. Servite is now ranked No. 15 nationally by while Rocklin is No. 47. Servite entered the game ranked No. 4 in the state by while Rocklin was No. 7. The total attendance for Saturday’s three bowl games at The Home Depot Center was 16,910. Each of the five state bowl games over the weekend featured a section winner from Northern California against a section winner from Southern California.