Granite Bay claims fourth section championship
Arik Bird leaped over Granite Bay High School's nasty offensive line for the clinching first down, then Brendan Keeney did a Lambeau Leap into the waiting arms of his fellow students in the stands on a windy Saturday afternoon at Hornet Stadium.
The Grizzlies ran straight into the teeth of Pleasant Grove's well-known defensive line and picked apart the Eagles' athletic secondary. Granite Bay's defense held one of the most powerful offenses in the area to half its scoring average and forced the only turnover of the day with 2:56 left in a 30-24 victory for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship.
The celebration of Granite Bay's fourth section crown - the first three came in Division II - carried on for several minutes as Grizzlies players walked along the front rail at Sacramento State exchanging hand slaps with their fellow students and fans. Michael Bertolino, Austin Paulhus, Ian Mook, Beau Hershberger and Adam Wagner - all instrumental in this victory - stood side by side on a sideline bench with their hands in the air, saluting a massive cheering section that chanted "Granite Bay" over and over.
And Gavin Andrews, Granite Bay's 6-foot-6, 320-pound bearded lineman, saluted each of his teammates.
"They mean everything in the world right now, everything. Everybody from PAT, everybody," he said. "They mean everything to me."
The Grizzlies (12-2) finished second to Del Oro, which won the Division III section title Friday night, in the Sierra Foothill League and were seeded fifth for the playoffs. Granite Bay took out No. 1 Stockton-Lincoln 28-21 in the semifinals before knocking off No. 2 Pleasant Grove (12-2), the defending section champ.
"We love being the underdog," said Keeney, the three-year starting quarterback who completed 13 of 19 passes for 135 yards, including touchdowns of 15 and 12 yards to senior tight end Spencer Briare. "If anyone counts us out, I wouldn't if I were you because our guys, we're not the biggest, fastest, strongest, but we got heart and we know how to win."
Keeney was 5 for 5 on the first series of the game, a 15-play, 80-yard marathon that took up the first 7:18. Briare made an over-the-shoulder catch on a lob for the score. Another Keeney-to-Briare connection for 15 yards - on fourth and three - set up senior Arik Bird for his first of two touchdowns, a six-yard run that extended the Grizzlies' lead to 24-16 with 2:06 left in the third quarter. Keeney put the ball into the gut of Briare, who didn't appear to be looking at the ball but clutched it still, to the amazement of all who saw it happen.
"Keeney does a great job putting the ball where it needs to be, and it ended up in my hands. It was a beautiful thing," Briare said. "I saw it out of the corner of my eyes, and I thought, 'You know what, if I put my hands out there, Keeney's gonna get it to me.' It ended up working."
Bird rushed for 166 yards in 27 carries, and Granite Bay ran for 243 of its 378 total yards. The ground game, with Taft Partridge throwing lead blocks on sweeps in the first half and Andrews pounding everyone from sideline to sideline throughout, was the key to the Grizzlies running 62 plays to Pleasant Grove's 40. Granite Bay compiled an NFL-like 24 first downs and didn't commit a turnover for the second game in a row.
"I'm sad that it's over. I'm happy we did it," Bird said. "Words can't describe it."
Head coach Ernie Cooper said Granite Bay went to different running plays after Pleasant Grove dialed in on the Grizzlies' scheme in the first half.
"That helped as the game went on because later in the game, it was harder for them to find the football," he said. "They found the football easily in the second quarter. We're sitting here with this pennant because we can run the football this year. Arik Bird was magic in that fourth quarter."
Granite Bay never trailed, but Pleasant Grove erased a 10-0 deficit and tied the score on a 45-yard naked bootleg by senior quarterback Cody Demps - on fourth and three - with 9:48 remaining. His pass to sophomore Wyatt Demps for the two-point conversion tied the score at 24.
The Grizzlies responded with an 11-play, 80-yard drive to the go-ahead score. The march included a 10-yard pass to Wagner on third and eight and a 12-yard pass to Bertolino on third and 11 from the Pleasant Grove 40.
A holding penalty - one of just two infractions on the Grizzlies and five total in the game - moved the ball back to the 38, but on the next play, Bird went wide right and cut inside a huge block by Andrews and into the secondary. Bird dragged Wyatt Demps the last five yards into the end zone.
The point-after kick was blocked, and the Eagles took over at their 42 with 4:13 remaining. But on fourth and nine, Hershberger tracked down a scrambling Cody Demps and stripped him of the ball. Briare came up with the ball and the Grizzlies, with another blue section banner.
"When the quarterback released out, I saw him holding the ball loose, so as he came up to pass, I came down and swatted it," Hershberger said. "I knew we needed a turnover. I was ecstatic."
Granite Bay's defensive performance was stunning. It held Pleasant Grove to 24 points (30.4 under its average), 155 yards rushing (143 under its average) and 312 total yards (117 under its average). The Grizzlies limited running back Mark Jenkins to 33 yards in 10 carries and kept him out of the end zone. The senior scoring machine went into the game with two-year totals of 4,488 yards rushing and 77 touchdowns.
"Through our weight training program and building our explosion and our tackling abilities, to come out and show our dominance on the field is truly a blessing," Hershberger said.
GRANITE 30, PLEASANT GROVE 24
Granite Bay 7 10 7 6 -- 30
Pleasant Grove 0 10 6 8 -- 24
GB -- Briare 15 pass from Keeney (Bermudez kick)
GB -- Bermudez 36 FG
PG -- White 24 FG
PG -- W. Demps 67 pass from C. Demps (White kick)
GB -- Briare 12 pass from Keeney (Bermudez kick)
PG -- Saunders 2 run (kick blocked)
GB -- Bird 6 run (Bermudez kick)
PG -- C. Demps 45 run (W. Demps pass from C. Demps)
GB -- Bird 38 run (kick blocked)
RUSHING -- Granite Bay, Bird 27-166, Bertolino 5-36, Mook 5-11, Ellison 4-24, Keeney 1-3, Partridge 1-3. Pleasant Grove, Jenkins 10-33, Saunders 6-31, C. Demps 3-50, Hanson 3-13, B. Lewis 3-3, Bibbs 2-23, Serne 1-2.
PASSING -- Granite Bay, Keeney 13-19-0, 135. Pleasant Grove, C. Demps 8-12-0, 157.
RECEIVING -- Granite Bay, Wagner 6-54, Briare 4-58, Bertolino 1-12, Partridge 1-8, Ellison 1-3. Pleasant Grove, W. Demps 3-91, Hanson 2-17, D. Lewis 1-29, Dunn 1-10, Hikutini 1-10.