A fight to the finish
Two weeks ago the Trojans picked up their first win against Sheldon and their first win ever at Sheldon-Pleasant Grove stadium.
On Friday they’ll try to win their second game at the stadium, as the Trojans face Pleasant Grove (3-0, 6-2) in another big Delta River League showdown.
As it turned out, the team’s first win over Sheldon turned about to be a 63-7 rout, but this week promises to be more difficult. The Eagles have played in the last two and three of the last four Division I section title games and a threat to get their again. They’ve defeated Sheldon, Ponderosa and Jesuit in league play and have lost to strong teams in Lincoln of Stockton and Inderkum. Oak Ridge will have to play well, better than they did against Ponderosa, to win the game.
“Defensively, we’re going to have to stop the run,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. “Offensively, we’re going to have to stay balanced. Pleasant Grove is very athletic, especially on the ends, and we’re going to have to keep them guessing.”
Oak Ridge 20, Ponderosa 17
The final score might have shocked some, but Cavaliere figured it would be a close game.
Sure, he would have liked to see his team beat Ponderosa by 30 points, but the reality is Oak Ridge didn’t play their best game and Ponderosa nearly came away with the upset win.
Ponderosa led 17-7 midway through the third quarter, before the Trojans put together a dramatic finish to salvage their season, as a loss would have been a devastating blow.
“Ponderosa’s plan was to take away our passing game and put us in a situation where we had to run the ball and I’m proud to say that we did,” Cavaliere said. “It was a our best game of the season for our offensive line and for our running backs. It was a good win; not a pretty win, but a win that we needed.”
While the win wasn’t pretty, it was a win that was important for the Trojans.
“We’ve had a couple close games this year, like Vacaville, but everything went right for us in that game,” Cavaliere said. “This was a good learning experience for us because not everything went right for us against Ponderosa. We weren’t really sharp and had to pull it out in the end and we were able to do that.”
There aren’t many rivalries in the greater Sacramento area quite like that of Oak Ridge and Ponderosa. As Cavaliere will tell you, no matter what each team’s record is, they are going to give each other a great game.
That is exactly what hundreds of fans witnessed on Friday night at Trojan Stadium as Oak Ridge defeated its Delta River League nemesis with a hard fought 20-17 victory.
Blake Martin’s run of 75 yards reclaimed the Oak Ridge lead at 20-17 with 4:50 left in the game. Martin broke tackles and hurdled over others en route to the end zone, igniting the Trojan faithful. It was then the Trojan defense’s turn to close the game out with a stop. Ponderosa drove across midfield to the Oak Ridge 44. On fourth-and-long, Bruin quarterback Jake Bist looked to throw but was sacked from behind by Zack Claiborne, who knocked the ball loose and Jacob Proul recovered for the Trojans. Oak Ridge was able to take the victory knee from there.
Claiborne said Oak Ridge won with “perseverance. (Ponderosa) was getting close and we didn’t want them to score. If we lose this game, it’s likely that we don’t make the playoffs. I’m a senior and I didn’t want that to happen. This is going to carry us into the next couple weeks for sure.”
Assistant coach Kevin Placek told Claiborne and Martin after the game that those would be two plays that he would never forget for the rest of his life.
“The original plan was to just get the first down. I got past the first down and saw daylight and took it in. It really settled the game,” said Martin, who finished the game with 135 yards and two touchdowns. “Our O-line is the heart and soul of our team and they made me look good tonight.”
The Trojans had trouble holding onto the football during the midpoint of the game. Fumbles on the last play of the first half and the opening kickoff off the second half eventually led to a 32-yard field goal by Curtis Goldsmith that put the Bruins up 17-7 early in the second half.
Josh Wellman’s 45-yard burst brought Oak Ridge into Ponderosa territory and resulted in a five-yard screen pass from Jason Samuels to Ross Dwelley in the end zone. A failed extra point attempt left the Trojans still with a four-point hole to dig out from at the end of the third.
Ponderosa drove down to the two-yard line with less than a minute to play in the first half. The Oak Ridge defensive line held tough for two downs until Bruin fullback Jeff Martin made good on his third try for the end zone, giving Ponderosa its first lead, 14-7 with nine seconds left.
Oak Ridge struck first on its opening possession. A nine-play drive culminated in an 11-yard run from Martin for the score. Ryan Lamb’s extra point gave the Trojans a 7-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Ponderosa responded two drives later with two big runs from Brett Jonutz—21 and 31 yards, respectively—that set up a QB keeper by Jake Bist from a yard out to knot the score at seven. Goldsmith recovered his own onside kick on the next play and Ponderosa threatened again. The Bruins drove down to the Trojan 25 before Oak Ridge managed another turnover on downs to seize the threat.
“Sometimes you don’t exactly do what you want to do all the time. But the kids kept playing, believed in each other and adjusted and came away with the win. I’m very proud of them,” said Cavaliere. “This is a great way for us to win. We saw some adversity and it was a great learning lesson. We haven’t had a game quite like this all year. We didn’t play our best but we came out with a W and I believe our team got better tonight.”
The Trojans moved to 2-1 in the Delta River League (7-1 overall) before a huge showdown at Pleasant Grove next week with postseason implications.
JV Trojans 35, Bruins 0
The junior varsity Trojans have put together a couple of solid games over the past two weeks. After defeating Sheldon last week on the road, Oak Ridge continued to play well against Ponderosa.
The Trojan defense stuffed all efforts of the Bruin attack and shut them down, 35-0. Oak Ridge scored all of their points over the first three periods as they improved to 2-1 in the Delta River League.
“This was an awesome win for us. Pondo is our rival, always has been ever since I’ve been here. This team’s finally found their soul. They never quit and have now put together back-to-back great games,” said Oak Ridge coach Ron Short. “Everybody played at Oak Ridge level. Our guys have needed to learn to get a little nasty and I think they’ve learned how to do that. These last couple weeks they’ve really enjoyed playing football. They’re really having fun being intense and letting it go. I think they’re finding that they can play loose but intense at the same time.”
Nick Pecoraro contributed to this story.