Grizzlies can’t get past Pacers, extend season
Friday night’s first-round playoff football game featuring No. 7 Grant and No. 11 Granite Bay was a rollercoaster of emotions.
The Grizzlies experienced the highs of a 98-yard kickoff return and a 72-yard burst down the sideline from junior Evan Tattersall, but they also experienced the lows of a four-touchdown performance from Grant’s tailback Tyree Marcelle, devastating injuries to key players and costly turnovers.
When the dust settled, Grant emerged victorious with a 42-17 advantage to knock Granite Bay out of the playoffs.
“Credit to them, they took it to us and I think they were determined to not let what happened to them last year, happen again,” Granite Bay’s coach Jeff Evans said. “But we’re happy with our effort. If we had to end with a loss, then we’re happy it ended with them fighting all the way through.”
The game mirrored a season full of highs and lows. The team began the year 1-6 and hopes of a playoff appearance were quickly fading. But the Grizzlies rallied to win three straight and clinch the fourth automatic postseason berth from the Sierra Foothill League to earn the program’s 18th straight playoff appearance.
But after erasing a 21-point deficit a year prior and upsetting their hosts, 24-21, a handful of big plays wouldn’t be enough to take down Grant for the second time in as many seasons.
“Obviously, we had our ups and downs, but the fact that they had the opportunity to check out a few weeks ago, or stop working hard, and let the season end, and they didn’t, that will tell you a lot about this group,” Evans explained. “Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, we feel adversity creates character, and these guys stuck together and displayed a lot of character.”
Granite Bay showed some of that character in the first quarter as speedy wideout Matt Barron helped his team answer an early touchdown from Grant with a 98-yard kickoff return up the gut for six.
“All week, Coach said, ‘They don’t defend the middle, so we have to hit the middle hard,’” Barron acknowledged. “It was like a track meet — right when I caught the ball, I went as fast as I could. I got through there, broke a tackle, felt someone behind me, but I was able to stiff arm them and keep going. That was a huge shift in the momentum”
But after one strong defensive stand that forced a punt, the Grizzlies broke down.
Granite Bay’s defense allowed Marcelle to find the end zone on runs of 25 and four yards before the Pacers completed a ridiculous 43-yard Hail Mary after the ball was tipped by a defender to end the half.
The Pacers added to their 28-7 halftime lead in the third period with another touchdown run from Marcelle after forcing Granite Bay to turn the ball over on downs.
In all, Marcelle racked up 261 yards on the ground and found the end zone four times on 29 carries to help his team claim the big win.
“My lineman were setting up the holes really well, so I was just able to follow them and then make some of the linebackers and DB’s miss,” admitted Marcelle, who stands 5-feet, 7-inches tall.
The four-score performance tied Marcelle’s career-high, which was set earlier this year in a 52-24 win over Clackamas, but he has his sights set on loftier goals.
“This win was the first step towards winning a section championship,” Marcelle added. “That’s our goal this year.”
The win pushes Grant into a second-round matchup against Antelope next Friday, while the loss ends Granite Bay’s season. The Grizzlies finish the year with a 4-7 record and a 3-3 mark in league play.
“We’re proud of the effort and we’re proud of the guys,” Evans admitted. “Obviously, everyone wants to win every game, but that wasn’t who we were this year, but we’re proud of the fight and we think that’s something they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.”
Although they trailed by three touchdowns through most of the second half, the visitors never gave up. The Grizzlies played to the final whistle and brought a little excitement to their sideline in the fourth period off a 72-yard touchdown run from Tattersall.
“They were blitzing the middle every time, so I kicked it outside and I was able to beat the defense to the end zone,” Tattersall explained. “But we knew coming in, our O-Line was smaller than their line, so we had to run hard, fall forward and get as many yards as we could.”
Tattersall, who broke a bone in his right foot with just a few minutes left in regulation, was one of three key players to get injured in, or just before, Friday’s game.
Junior Will Craig broke his collarbone on the game’s opening defensive series, while senior Tank Tonda battled a foot injury throughout the contest.
“For us, that’s like losing four Division I football players — two on offense and two on defense,” Evans admitted. “And Tank stuck it out and fought. He’s got a broken toe, but he did everything he could on one leg, and that shows you the kind of character he has.”
Tonda, who sustained the injury last week during the first quarter of the Rocklin game, sported a noticeable limp, which got worse as the game dragged on. But he stayed in the game and continued to open up holes for his running backs.
“It was pretty hard, especially going up against those big guys,” the senior guard admitted. “I mean, they’re pretty hard to move to begin with and with this injury, it was even tougher.”
Despite their injuries, Tonda, Tattersall and Craig lingered on the field after the game as they said their goodbyes and hugged their teammates.
“I’ve played with these guys for 11 years now, so it’s hard, very hard, for it to come to an end,” Tonda added.
The Grizzlies coaching staff will now approach the offseason as they look to make playoff trip No. 19 next fall.