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Oak Ridge, Granite Bay to rekindle playoff rivalry

By: Matt Long Telegraph Sports Editor
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An old rivalry will be renewed on Friday when Oak Ridge travels to Granite Bay to face the Grizzlies in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I football playoffs. Twice before the teams have squared off in a section championship game with Granite Bay winning in 2000, 41-21, and Oak Ridge taking the 2002 game, 20-17. “Granite Bay used to be on our regular season schedule for a number of years and there for a time we saw them almost every postseason,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. “Granite Bay is a well-coached team that executes at the high level. They have one of the best offensive linemen we’ve seen this year in Gavin Andrews (6’6”, 320 lbs.) and a quarterback (Brendan Keeney) who’s got Division I scholarship offers on the table. They’re a very solid football team.” The Trojans, however, are coming off their first playoff victory since 2004 and are a confident team right now. “We believe we can win, absolutely,” Cavaliere said. “That’s our plan. The teams that win in the playoffs are the ones that are getting better every week and that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve got a young quarterback (Jacob Sipes) who’s getting better with every snap. We’re getting healthier and we’re playing our best football of the season. I think that makes us a dangerous team.” Oak Ridge 30, Burbank 28 The playoff drought is over. For the first time since winning the 2004 Division II Section Championship, Oak Ridge High’s varsity football team has won a playoff game. The 13th-seeded Trojans traveled to Sacramento on Friday night and came back from a 16-3 deficit to upset the fourth-seeded Burbank Titans, 30-28. Shay Mueller, who carried the ball 29 times for 189 yards, scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard run with 4:14 to play and Kyle Belcher picked off his first pass of the season to secure the win with 1:22 to play. “It feels incredibly great to get this playoff win,” Cavaliere said. “It was a full team effort. The offense pounded the ball all night; the defense got the stops when we needed them and our special teams recovered a key kick. Everyone contributed.” Oak Ridge (7-4 on the year) will hit the road again Friday night to face fifth-seeded Granite Bay (9-2). As they have all season, the Trojans displayed great heart in both halves. The team’s never-say-die attitude and willingness to go toe-to-toe with opponents is a characteristic that is a far more important unit of measure than the team’s 7-4 record or 13th-seed. Playing on the road in the playoffs, the last thing the Trojans wanted to do was fall behind, but that’s exactly what happened. After John David Smith booted a 42-yard field goal to put Oak Ridge ahead 3-0, the Titans scored 16 unanswered points in dramatic fashion. After their opening score midway through the second quarter, the Titans intercepted a Jacob Sipes’ pass two plays into Oak Ridge’s next possession and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion gave the Titans a 16-3 lead and momentum. Oak Ridge never blinked. The offense moved the ball down the field on their next drive in seven plays, starting with a 27-yard pass to Collie and followed by five straight runs by Mueller, who racked up 27 yards on the drive. Sipes finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Preston Dean. With 3:11 to play in the half, Oak Ridge cut the score to 16-10 following Smith’s extra point. In one of the biggest plays of the game, Smith’s ensuing kickoff was not fielded by Burbank and instead was recovered by Chad Augood at the Burbank 22-yard line. Six plays later, Mueller had his first touchdown run of the evening from eight yards out. Smith’s extra point was wide and the game remained tied at the half at 16, but not without one more defensive stand by the Trojans, who stopped the Titans on three straight plays from the Oak Ridge 27-yard line in the final seconds of the half. Burbank struck first in the second half with another touchdown to take a 22-16 lead midway through the third quarter. The Trojans then moved the ball into the red zone, but Smith missed a 34-yard field goal attempt and the ball went back to the Titans with 2:07 to play in the quarter. Oak Ridge’s defense held, however, and the Trojans got the ball back in great field position at the Burbank 38-yard line. Three plays later, Dean bulldozed his way into the end zone from 19 yards away, running over and through several tacklers along the way. Smith’s extra point put Oak Ridge ahead 23-22 early in the fourth quarter. Burbank answered immediately on an 85-yard touchdown pass on the second play of its next possession to retake the lead at 28-23. The Trojans then embarked on a game-winning, 70-yard scoring drive that took up 6:24 on the clock. All 70 yards came on the ground with Dean and Mueller taking turns before Mueller finally took it to the house from one yard out. Burbank then moved the ball down to the Oak Ridge 37-yard line before Belcher intercepted a pass to secure the win. “We were in cover 2 and I was just protecting the flat,” Belcher explained. “When I saw it coming I knew it was mine. It’s my first pick this season and it came at the right time. It’s exciting to make the play that ends the game, especially since we haven’t won a playoff game in a long time.” The Trojan offensive line of Will Boule, Cody Frakes, Blake Mize and Jason and Joe Chapman dominated the line of scrimmage all game, opening huge holes for Mueller and Dean. Defensively, Daniel Portela was active up front getting in on several tackles. “It feels like a big gorilla has been lifted off of our backs,” Dean said after the game. Mueller reveled in his best game at Oak Ridge. “I just kept my legs going and didn’t let the first guy get me down,” Mueller said of his big night. “The line played great, opening the biggest holes they have all year. With Preston and I running it was some smash and dash.”