Granite Bay clinches playoff berth with win over Rocklin

Grizzlies topple Thunder in SFL finale to earn final playoff spot
By: Steven Wilson and Jorden P. Hales - For The Press Tribune
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Four weeks ago, Granite Bay’s football team was nearly written off. 

The Grizzlies sat at 1-6 on the year and 0-3 in league play. The team’s chances for making the postseason were slim, to say the least. 

But through perseverance and a hunger to keep the second-longest active playoff streak in the section alive, Granite Bay rattled off three straight wins, including Friday night’s 36-28 victory over Rocklin, to earn the fourth seed in the SFL and an automatic postseason bid.  

The win over the Thunder gives the Grizzlies their 18th consecutive playoff berth in school history. They hope to extend that run past this Friday’s opening playoff game, much like fellow SFL member Del Oro did last year when the Eagles took a 4-6 regular season record into the postseason and came back with a state championship.

“We don’t celebrate a lot of 4-6 records around here, but the way we finished is something we’re really proud of,” Granite Bay’s head coach Jeff Evans said. “Now everything is equal. We’ll give  our next opponent our best shot.”

Although they’re just now officially in the postseason, the Grizzlies have approached each of the last three weeks as playoff games. In order to earn that coveted fourth automatic bid from the Sierra Foothill League, the Grizzlies needed to win-out against Nevada Union, Woodcreek and Rocklin to end the year. 

While Granite Bay was one of the hottest teams in the league in the month of October, Rocklin was one of the coldest. The Thunder, who went to the Section Championship game last season and lost by 10 to the eventual state champion (Del Oro), stumbled to a 1-5 SFL finish and lost their final five games. 

Some of their troubles were due to injuries. Senior quarterback Michael Nolan sat out multiple games with an injury but returned Friday night and led Rocklin into the red zone on each of its first three possessions at Granite Bay, but only produced a single touchdown. 

“I’m not sure if they did anything special to stop us. There were a couple of times where we didn’t execute, which cost us early,” said Thunder head coach Greg Benzel. “We needed to be perfect. Then we needed to score on that first possession coming out of the second half to keep it within a possession. It just seemed like they were always two possessions up.”

The Grizzlies capitalized on a 71-yard touchdown run from junior running back Chris Osby to open the game and added touchdown runs from fullback Evan Tattersall and quarterback Jade Foddrill to take a 21-7 lead into halftime. 

Granite Bay’s defense also made a few big plays as defensive back Jaylen Latson set the tone with an interception in the first half to stall one of Rocklin’s three drives into Grizzlies territory. 

“They were moving their safeties around a lot,” Nolan explained. “We watched film at halftime. We knew which holes we were going to attack and we just left it all out there in the second half.”

Rocklin did manage to outscore Granite Bay in the second half, after adjusting to Granite Bay’s defensive schemes, but the Grizzlies added a pair of rushing touchdowns — another one from Tattersall and one from senior running back Drew Yeargin — to secure the win. 

“We have a lot of respect for Rocklin — we feel iron sharpens iron, because we’re really knocking each other around,” Evans acknowledged. “And when you go out of this league, our guys are ready to compete against anybody we play.”

With the loss, Rocklin heads home and will dive into the offseason shortly. But in a league that boasts two defending state champions and 75 percent of the sections quarterfinalists from 2015, the Thunder understand there’s a slim margin for error and there will always be quality SFL teams on the outside looking in come playoff time.

“You kind of pass the number one through number four spots around a little bit,” Benzel admitted. “This league is tremendous. We knew we were going to be down a little this year, but we felt we could make the playoffs and that was in their hearts tonight. We were thinking that if we could regain some of our health we could probably sneak in (to the playoffs) and do well, but it just didn’t go our way.”

Meanwhile, the section office revealed the playoff brackets Saturday and Granite Bay will open up as the No. 11 seed and take on No. 6 Grant on the road Friday night. It’s a fitting rematch after last year’s second-round playoff thriller in which the Grizzlies scored three unanswered touchdowns to claim a 24-21 win. 

The rematch should be just as fun.