Trojans excited to be part of "classic" matchup with Granite BayBy: Matt Long, Sports Editor
Oak Ridge enters Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game against Granite Bay as the higher seed with a better record, but the Trojans know they’ll be considered underdogs by most people and that’s fine with them.
Oak Ridge, the third seed, is 12-1, while the Grizzlies, the fifth seed, are 10-3, but are coming off 37-7 drubbing of No. 1 seed and previously unbeaten Franklin and are as hot as a team can be. The Grizzlies defeated Oak Ridge 21-12 last year in the second round of the playoffs en route to winning the Division I section title. The Trojans know the Grizzlies are a great team, but they’ve got a good bunch too.
“This is not a team of superstars getting a lot of college scholarships,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said, “but this team just works hard and gets it done. Now we get another shot at Granite Bay. It’s a classic match-up.”
After defeating Burbank 24-6 on Saturday to reach the championship game, the Trojans were thrilled.
“I can’t even believe it,” said starting offensive and defensive lineman Jacob Proul. “It’s a dream come true. I’m hungry. I’m going to train twice as hard this week.”
Besides having the chance to play for the title, the Trojans get another week of being together as a team, something they appreciate.
“It’s phenomenal to be back in the championship game,” said Cavaliere, who was an assistant coach on previous section championship teams at Oak Ridge. “I can’t believe it. It feels like it’s been forever. To have an opportunity to spend another week with this team is great. I love coaching this group.”
Friday’s game will be the 14th of the season for the Trojans, which is a school record, according to assistant coach and former head coach Mark Watson. Having another game also presents another opportunity for the team.
“We’re going to get better this week,” Watson told his team after the win over Burbank.
Oak Ridge 24, Burbank 6
By looking at Oak Ridge High’s football team after Saturday’s game against Burbank, it would have been hard to figure out whether they won or lost.
There were a lot of hanging heads from the quiet, tired Oak Ridge brotherhood, but that fatigue came from a hard-fought 24-6 win against a big, physical team, on an unseasonably warm late November day.
The Trojans dominated the previously unbeaten and No. 2 seeded Thunder, pounding them on both sides of the ball and winning the battle on the line of scrimmage.
“We practiced all week for this and we came out and took it to them,” said Proul. “We were underdogs, but this is Oak Ridge. We wanted to throw the first punch and we did on both sides of the ball.”
After a quiet first quarter, Oak Ridge did a bulk of its damage in the second, starting with their first drive, which ended in a five-yard touchdown pass from Jason Samuels to 6-foot, 5-inch tight end Ross Dwelley. Samuels hooked up with Dwelley six times for 66 yards on the day, including three plays prior to the touchdown when an 18-yard reception converted a fourth-and-11 play from the Burbank 40-yard line.
“Ross is tough to cover,” Cavaliere said. “He’s a first-year varsity player and he’s gotten better every week.”
On the Trojans’ next drive, Blake Martin and Josh Wellman gained the first 25 yards of the drive before Samuels completed passes to Justin Priest and Dwelley for 23 yards. On fourth-and-four, Samuels looked for and found his favorite receiver, Byron Spain, in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown pass and the Trojans led 14-0.
Burbank fumbled the ball away two plays into their next possession and Trent Buenzli recovered it at the Burbank 15. Oak Ridge couldn’t punch it in, but they did add a field goal to their score on a 26-yarder by Ryan Lamb and the Trojans took at 17-0 lead into halftime.
After holding the Titans in the initial possession of the second half, Oak Ridge scored one final time. Moving the ball 47 yards on eight plays, Oak Ridge capped the drive on a six-yard run from Martin.
Burbank countered with its only score of the game, a 39-yard touchdown pass from Ernest Jenkins to Calvin Green, but it’s the only celebrating the Titans would do.
What makes the Trojans good offensively is that they can run and pass with equal ability. That balanced attack was evident on Saturday, as the Trojans rushed for 146 yards and passed for 143.
Fullback Tanner Hughes picked up 51 yards on nine carries, while running backs Blake Martin and Josh Wellman rushed for 50 and 46 yards, respectively. Samuels completed 13 passes for 143 yards.
“We knew it would be a battle,” said Oak Ridge offensive coordinator and line coach Aaron Brackney. “Burbank has a great defensive line. Our guys just played their butts off. On defense we totally shut their running game down and that makes it easy when we get good field position.”
After the game, defensive coordinator Daren Jonutz was impressed with the team.
“We were extremely efficient defensively; executing the game plan at a high level and the offense did a great job taking advantage,” Jonutz said.
Cavaliere told the team, “I’m proud of you guys; what an effort. It took everyone to do this.”