Oak Ridge is one win away from wrapping up a near perfect regular season.
The Trojans host Jesuit on Friday in their annual homecoming game and need a win against the Marauders (1-3 in league, 5-4 overall) to finish the regular season with a 9-1 record. If the Trojans win and Pleasant Grove upsets Folsom, Oak Ridge will earn a piece of the Delta River League title with those two teams.
Oak Ridge head coach Eric Cavaliere, however, is only worried about what he and his team can control, which is getting a win against Jesuit.
“Jesuit is very much improved with a new coach and a new system,” Cavaliere said. “They’ve come a long way and have gotten a few guys back from injury. I expect them to play their best.”
If there’s a key player to watch on the Marauders, it’s quarterback Thomas Sperbeck, who’s passed for 773 yards and 11 touchdowns and run for 740 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He’s a very talented player,” Cavaliere said. “He’s fast and athletic and he’s a playmaker. If Jesuit is going to have a big play, the ball is going to be in his hands, whether he’s passing it or running with it. We’re going to have to do a good job on him. We’re going to have to play tight to stop the run, but at the same time Jesuit’s very good at throwing the deep ball so we’re going to have to defend that too.”
Oak Ridge 38, Pleasant Grove 19
The Trojans not only beat Pleasant Grove Friday night, but in doing so they made a loud statement to the rest of the Division I teams in the section: beware of the Trojans.
Oak Ridge dominated the Eagles on both sides of the ball with a convincing 38-19 victory to improve to 3-1 in the Delta River League and 8-1 overall. The loss was Pleasant Grove’s third of the season and first in league play. After the game, Cavaliere addressed the team.
“If you can come down here to Pleasant Grove and beat them physically like we did and beat them like we did on the scoreboard, you can beat any team in the section,” Cavaliere said. “I’m very proud of you guys.”
The Trojans fell behind 12-0 midway through the first quarter, but dominated the final 40 minutes of the game, starting with an 11-play, 63-yard drive for their first score of the game. Oak Ridge easily and quickly moved the ball down the field until reaching the red zone, where they faced a fourth-and-three from the 20-yard line. Jason Samuels found his favorite target, Byron Spain, on a 19-yard pass right at the goal line before Blake Martin scored on the next play on a one-yard run.
The next time the Trojans had the ball they went right back to work and scored in five plays, capping the 46-yard drive with a 15-yard pass from Samuels to Ross Dwelley and the Trojans led 14-12 early in the second quarter and the score remained the same at the break.
While the offense found its mojo, the defense was outstanding all night, allowing only two touchdowns. The Trojans front seven shut down the run game and also pressured Pleasant Grove quarterback Deaundre Terrell all night long. Defensive end Zach Claiborne had five sacks and Chandler Christy was in on several tackles. Kareem Ballal and Jacob Proul played well at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, while linebackers Trent Buenzli and Nick Gordon on the outside and Thomas Mahlman on the inside made solid tackles.
“Considering that Pleasant Grove ran for more than 300 yards on us the last few years, our defense did an outstanding job tonight,” Oak Ridge defensive coordinator Daren Jonutz said. “We recognized their formations and lined up properly and executed. We’ve got two of the best linebackers around in Nick Gordon and Thomas Mahlman. They’re undersized maybe and underrated, but played great. Guys just stepped up all over and made plays.”
Oak Ridge put the game away in the third quarter when they scored on all three of their possessions, including the opening drive of the second half. Josh Wellman returned the second-half kickoff to his own 46-yard line and it took the team only three plays to find the end zone. Samuels completed passes to Spain and Dwelley before Tanner Hughes scored on a seven-yard run.
After Oak Ridge stopped a fake punt attempt by Pleasant Grove deep in their own territory, it took only five plays before Hughes scored again, this time from nine yards out, and the Trojans were rolling 28-12.
Martin’s 44-yard run late in the quarter gave the Trojans a commanding 35-12 lead.
Oak Ridge’s offense was spectacular all night, as the Trojans featured great balance with 243 rushing yards and 233 passing yards.
Both teams scored once in the fourth quarter, Pleasant Grove on a touchdown run and Oak Ridge on a 20-yard field goal from Ryan Lamb.
Oak Ridge assistant coach Mark Watson told the team the win was one of the team’s biggest in several years.
“The loss to Folsom actually gave us momentum to push through the rest of the league,” Claiborne said. “I believe we’re one of the best teams in the league and I think if we’d play Folsom again we’d beat them.”
Cavaliere was thrilled with his team’s performance, especially since they got off to a shaky start.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Cavaliere said. “Pleasant Grove is physical, fast, well-coached team and they probably have the most wins in the last five years of anybody and we played great and got the win.”
Oak Ridge’s junior varsity team saw its two-game win streak come to a halt, as Pleasant Grove won 14-7. The Trojans led 7-0 at halftime on a touchdown run by Stephen Douglas, but Pleasant Grove scored twice in the second half on long touchdown runs to earn the win.
Coach Ron Short addressed his team after the game.
“The last two weeks you came out with passion and you’ve got to do that every game,” Short said. “What you’ve got to learn as a group is that you lost because you didn’t block and tackle. Who wanted it more in the second half? That was definitely a beatable team.”
Oak Ridge’s freshman football team improved to 9-0 with a 21-13 win over Vista del Lago.