An offensive breakout in its playoff opener gives Granite Bay a dangerous look going forward.
INSIDE LOOK: by Jim McCue
The Granite Bay High football team is not going to advance in the playoffs with big plays made by high-profile playmakers on offense. The Grizzlies know who they are and what they need to be to extend their season into December.
“We’re not world-beaters, but we have a good high school football team,” coach Ernie Cooper said after Granite Bay rolled past Chavez-Stockton 63-14 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff opener. “I’m glad we are playing another game.”
In the final week of the regular season, Granite Bay struggled against Sierra Foothill League-rival Del Oro, especially in the second half of a 20-7 defeat. The Grizzlies’ offense in particular did not resemble the unit that helped propel the team to a five-game winning streak. Cooper admitted that it took him most of the week heading into the playoffs to “get out of a funk” after his team sputtered to the finish line of the regular season.
But, after completely dismantling Chavez “” the Grizzlies jumped out to a 56-0 lead by halftime and did not allow a single first down to the Titans before the intermission “” the veteran coach had a much more pleasant demeanor.
“This is the football team that we can be,” Cooper told his team as it gathered together on the field after the impressive victory.
Granite Bay may have found its game just in time for a run through the playoffs, and that is a scary possibility for opponents that may face the Grizzlies. In 2012, Cooper watched his team get hot after a 1-3 start to the regular season, and that ride did not end until the coach was hoisting the CIF Div. I State Bowl Championship trophy over his head on the Home Depot Center field in Carson.
In the 2014 playoff opener, few thought that the Grizzlies would lose to Chavez, especially with the Titans’ primary offensive weapon “” senior running back Priest Jennings, who rushed for 1,661 yards and 19 touchdowns “” sidelined after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 10. But, even fewer could imagine Granite Bay dominating the first two quarters before resting the majority of its starters in the second half.
The Grizzlies needed just six plays to go 55 yards to the end zone on its opening possession, and that was one of their longer scoring drives during a dominant first quarter.
Flybacks Lucas Baiocchi and Tyler Brendel, along with halfback Ben Smith, each had scoring runs in the Grizzlies’ first 11 plays from scrimmage. Tight end Will Stabbert added a 10-yard touchdown catch-and-run to start the rout. Quarterback Justin Yeaton lofted a perfect 31-yard strike to Brian Graber, and Sam Cusano added a nifty 63-yard punt return touchdown.
In 10 regular season games, the Grizzlies’ offense managed just 35 touchdowns. In the first 24 minutes of the postseason, it scored eight.
“We came out and executed real well on offense,” Cooper said. “I think you saw a motivated team that wanted to play well, and to show that this game meant something to them.”
The offensive opportunities “” mostly on a short field “” came in part from a solid defensive effort. Defense has been the team’s calling card for much of the season, limiting opponents to an average of 17 points per game. In fact, the Grizzlies allowed only 12 points per game when a 63-0 loss to Folsom is taken out of the equation.
The Titans could not find running room or time to pass, and the Grizzlies forced a pair of three-and-out’s to go with a Cedric Johnson interception and Cameron Smith’s strip-sack and fumble recovery on Chavez’s first four possessions. Much like the offense, a host of defenders made plays to completely shut down an offense that averaged 38 points per game in the regular season.
“We’ve got a feisty defense,” said Smith, a captain and USC-commit at linebacker. “I think we are getting better every week, and we are getting more confident. That’s a good feeling.”
It was not a good feeling for Chavez, and is not good news for Napa or anyone else that might cross the Grizzlies’ postseason path.
While Smith may get the headlines with the size and speed of a prototypical Pac-12 linebacker, Granite Bay’s team philosophy of shared responsibility and depth is as evident on defense as it is on offense.
“We play good team defense, and Cam’s not the only guy,” Cooper said. “Our defense has played well for a while, and we’re going to need that if we want to make any noise in the playoffs.”
And that’s all that Cooper and Granite Bay really care about “” making noise as a team in the postseason regardless of how quiet their individual statistics may be.
“The ultimate challenge for us is going to be this next week,” Cooper added. “We are playing against a (league) champion, and I hope that we rise to that challenge.
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