Casa Roble Football Prepares For A CIF State Bowl Regional Playoff After Its Gutty Quarterback Led Thrilling Comeback Win In Sac-Joaquin Div. IV Final
PICTURED ABOVE: Conner Campbell leaps in excitement amongst his teammates following the final play of the SJS Division 4 Championship game. (Ike Dodson photos)
The moniker fits him better than his sleeveless No. 12.
When he’s darting for late touchdowns and throwing section title-winning two-point conversions, Casa Roble High’s junior quarterback is indeed “Conner freaking Campbell,” as Casa Roble coach Chris Horner prefers to say.
It’s just a vibe — the kind that lifted the Rams from Orangevale to a 23-22 thriller over previously unbeaten Twelve Bridges-Lincoln for the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. 4 football title last Friday at Hughes Stadium on the Sacramento City College campus.
“He was freaking special late in the game,” Horner said. “My gosh, that kid is a player.”
Play on, playa’.
Casa travels to Soquel Friday for a shot at the California Interscholastic Federation Division 4-AA Northern Regional title and a state bowl appearance. It earned the bid by surviving a 22-15 halftime deficit and scoring the only points of the second half while the fat lady was just clearing her throat.
After a missed field goal failed to give Twelve Bridges a two-possession lead with 7 minutes, 23 seconds to play, Campbell orchestrated a dazzling 14-play drive to win the game. He missed four of his five passes on the drive, but Campbell hit UC Davis-bound Cole Owens on a 21-yard strike into Rhino territory. Nine plays later, seemingly stalled by his own sideline, Campbell shook defenders with 2:18 to play and found the edge of the end zone on an inventive scramble.
“ I knew I had to step up big,” Campbell said. “It was, ‘How could I get 10 more yards?’ Until there wasn’t 10 more yards to get. That’s all I could think of: not stopping until I get to that pylon.”
Horner harnessed that momentum into a daring shot at the lead, with a call identified as “money” in the Casa playbook. The entire Rams offense bolted left, before Campbell suddenly turned and lofted a pass the opposite way at Ethan Horner, who slipped back the other direction.
The ball floated for a lifetime.
“It was a shock,” Ethan said. “I did not think the ball was going to go to me. Ball is in the air and I was like, ‘Oh crap.’”
Twelve Bridges’s comeback hit the turf on fourth and 18 and Casa justifiably erupted like they — well, like they won their first section title since 2008.
“I’m so overcome with emotion,” Coach Horner said. “These guys have been busting their butts so hard since freaking January, and it’s even extra special because my kid made the two point.
“I don’t even know how to deal with it. He came over and we hugged each other and he was like, ‘I love you so much Dad, this is amazing.’”
After a few first-half drops, Campbell finished 10 of 21 for 126 yards. He hit Braylen Blevins for a game-tying 27-yard touchdown to open the second quarter and also scrambled six times for 79 yards and the late score.
“We knew it was going to be our last drive, we knew we had to put something together there,” Campbell said. “I can’t take all the credit for that. I have to give a shout-out to our defense — zero points in the second half — what an amazing effort by them.”
Owens nabbed an interception in front of his own end zone to steal Rhino points while Evan Combs and Darren Dalton each picked up second-half sacks. Casa’s first touchdown came on Richie Graham’s six-yard drive. The Casa offense rolled for 197 yards on the ground. Blevins left the game with a shoulder injury after earning 63 of those on nine touches.
The win is the Ram’s 12th, with a lone blemish against Div. 2 semifinalist Del Oro-Loomis on Sept. 15. Twelve Bridges, playing in its first season with seniors after opening in 2021, caps the 12-1 year as Pioneer Valley League champions with landmark wins over the likes of Sutter (9-3), Colfax (7-5) and Los Banos (10-2).
“The foundation for the program is built on culture, and this is not a one-shot deal for us,” Rhino coach Chris Bean said. “We got a lot of guys coming back… You never want to predict things, but I’ll tell you right now, we are going to be around.”
Both coaches, longtime peers (Bean coached at Lincoln), shared a deep embrace after the championship meeting.
“It sucks one of us had to lose this freaking game,” Coach Horner said. “I’m glad it was him, but I love the man, and he just came out and said, ‘That was a great one. I appreciate you. Let me get the next one.’
“I said, ‘Deal.’”
Casa’s NorCal test is a big one. Soquel was runner-up in the stout Pacific Coast Gabilan League of the Central Coast Section and won the Central Coast Section Div. 2 title after consecutive shutout victories to close the bracket. The Knights beat Christopher 28-0 at San Jose City College Nov. 25 to reach the NorCal regional and win their first-ever section title.
As Coach Horner would say, “It’s freaking game time.”