A Blue-Collar Mentality And A Dominant Defense Were On Full Display In Rocklin’s Div. II Championship Victory Over St. Mary’s-Stockton
PICTURED ABOVE: Rocklin senior Spencer Patton (6) congratulates sophomore quarterback Reeve Slone following the Thunder’s championship win Saturday night. (Ben Enos photos)
Rocklin head football coach Jason Adams isn’t really a hat guy.
But, as he donned a champions’ lid after the Thunder defeated St. Mary’s-Stockton 17-6 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 2 title, one of his assistants took the opportunity to point out how good Adams looked in the hat.
Adams had the perfect reply ready.
“You can see it tomorrow in the weight room!”
It was the type of blue-collar response that epitomizes a program that prides itself on getting back to work.
To earn its 12th win of the season and first section title since 2009, the Thunder needed every bit of that nose-to-the-grindstone mentality. It carried the No. 2 seed into Sacramento’s Hughes Stadium and knew that standing across from them would be a No. 1-seeded St. Mary’s team that scored 38 or more points in all but one game this year.
Right from the start, Rocklin (12-1) showed its teeth defensively, forcing a fumble on St. Mary’s first drive. The Rams replied immediately though, and a 75-yard touchdown strike from Samson Hunkin to Kenneth Moore III put St. Mary’s (11-2) up 6-0 after a quarter.
That was all the Rams would get. An interception by Rocklin’s Mavrik Collins set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Derek Keeley, and a 44-yard dash by sophomore quarterback Reeve Slone put the Thunder ahead 14-6 at halftime.
In the second half, the Rocklin defense bent but never broke. St. Mary’s got into the Thunder red zone twice after intermission only to be turned away both times. A long third quarter drive ended on downs when Hunkin’s fourth down scramble ended on the Rocklin 8-yard line.
A 21-yard field goal by Jacob Winter added to Rocklin’s lead, and when St. Mary’s again got to the Rocklin 10-yard line with just over six minutes to play, Jack Merino stepped in front of a pass in his own end zone to grab an interception.
Senior Brody Desario put the exclamation point on the Thunder’s win, securing an interception of his own with 2:44 left and sending the Rocklin faithful into celebration.
“It means a lot. It was our goal coming into the year,” said senior tight end Gavin Correia. “A lot of people doubted us, nothing surprising with losing the seniors, but we battled through a lot of adversity throughout the year. Reeve Slone played his (butt) off the whole year and got us here. Huge reason we were able to win this game. And our defense balled out all season long. It showed right there.”
Correia also knew exactly who to heap the praise onto. He called out the Thunder’s all-senior defensive line — John Correa, Spencer Patton, Koen Bell and Marcus Hawkins — for leading the way not just in the championship game but all year long.
Offensively, Slone’s dual-threat ability paired perfectly with the running back tandem of Keeley and Rafi Merino all season, and that approach paid off again against the Rams.
Keeley put the thunder in Rocklin’s attack as the junior rushed for a hard-earned 64 yards.
“He’s kind of what it looks like, right? He’s a little bit undersized for this, he’s a little bit this, he’s a little bit of things that people say he’s not until you measure that thing (pointing to his heart) and find the blood that pumps through that heart,” Adams said. “It’s the mindset that says I’ll get it done whether I have to get through two blockers or run through two tacklers. He’s a winner. He’s an absolute winner, and we’re lucky to have him in our program.”
As he grew into a sophomore starter, Slone matured throughout the season as well. Against the Rams, he rushed for a team-high 102 yards and kept St. Mary’s guessing run or pass all night.
“It’s just our bond,” Slone said of the team’s growth. “We weren’t that familiar with each other at the start of the year and we all grew close. We’ve got each other’s backs. They definitely welcomed me in.”
There is more football in Rocklin’s future as the Thunder learned Sunday that they will host Grant-Sacramento on Friday night in the California Interscholastic Federation Division 2-AA Northern Regional.
But Adams wasn’t focused on that in the moments following his team’s big win.
“Our section has 155 teams that compete in football, and to win a section championship is special. That’s the part we’ll remember the most,” Adams said. “Now if we get a chance to play, we’re obviously going to go out there and we’re going to try to win that game. This is the one we aim for right here. We want to get to the weekend of Thanksgiving, and if you’re practicing and playing that night, you’ve had one hell of a year and the memories will last a lifetime.”