Strong blocking, big plays lift Grizzlies
Brendan Keeney completed his first 12 passes to wide-open receivers running precise routes. Cory Brehm and Danny Thomas followed strong blocking and broke tackles on productive runs. The defense didn’t allow big plays.
It was another impressive Sac-Joaquin Section playoff opener for Granite Bay High School, which scored on its first five possessions to beat visiting Pitman of Turlock 35-19 on Friday night in Division I. The Grizzlies are 11-1 in playoff openers.
Sixth-seeded Granite Bay (8-3) will travel to Downey High School in Modesto on Friday to play third-seeded Enochs (9-2), which defeated No. 14 Rodriguez of Fairfield 31-10.
“The team’s pretty confident. We got a good ballclub,” said Brehm, who caught five passes for 102 yards, rushed six times for 51 yards and scored two touchdowns on a reception and a run. “I think our team can do a lot this year.”
Run-oriented Pitman (7-4) had possessions lasting 10, 11, 12 and 15 plays. The Pride ran 60 plays to Granite Bay’s 35.
Granite Bay needed little time to score. The Grizzlies had a six-play, 80-yard march and took a 7-0 lead on Brehm’s two-yard run. Brehm caught a 26-yard pass from Keeney on the march, and Cory Pierce’s 33-yard run and a facemask penalty on Pitman put the ball on the 2-yard line. Pierce bounced off two tackles and followed a beautiful block by Tanner Holt.
It was one of several timely blocks during the game and an increasingly familiar sight over the course of the season. Coach Ernie Cooper said the Grizzlies spend the first Monday before the playoffs revisiting blocking basics.
“We worry about the other team for about a half-hour,” he said.
Said Brehm, “That’s what separates the five-yard plays from the 20-yard plays.”
Granite Bay made it 14-0 with a five-play, 61-yard drive that ended with Keeney throwing an eight-yard scoring pass to Pierce. The drive started with a 22-yard connection from Keeney to Holt.
Brehm reached high to make a one-handed catch of a Keeney quick flip in the second quarter and turned it into a 37-yard gain, dodging defenders along the way. Brehm scored the touchdown that made it 21-6 on an eight-yard catch and hurdle into the end zone.
Pitman made it 21-12 with 40.2 seconds remaining in the first half, but Granite Bay has made an art form of scoring late and deflating its foes. Keeney completed passes of nine, 18 and 22 yards on consecutive plays before Thomas scored on a 13-yard draw play with 12.4 seconds left to make it 28-12. The four-play, 62-yard march took 27.8 seconds.
“We were talking, ‘Should we go to our hurry-up and not even huddle?’ ” Cooper said, noting the Grizzlies had all three timeouts when they gained possession. “I ran the draw play for the touchdown just because I think they were all working themselves out to all the flats because we were hitting them on the sidelines and all that stuff. They stuff us, we call a timeout. That was a great drive.”
Keeney was 5 for 5 passing in the first quarter and 5 for 5 in the second. He finished 12 for 16 for 191 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our quarterback was good on that last drive in the first half,” Cooper said. “He was unbelievable.”
Granite Bay had trouble fielding a surprise pop-up of the second-half kickoff and started at its 4, but the Grizzlies promptly drove 96 yards in seven plays and took a 35-12 lead on an 11-yard run by Thomas. Big plays again contributed significantly to the march, including a crunching block by Pierce on a 25-yard run by Brehm.
Granite Bay at Enochs
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Downey High School, Oakdale Road, 1000 Coffee Road, Modesto
About Enochs: Enochs is a young school – this is the Eagles’ fourth senior class – but had a firm grip on the Modesto Metro Conference this season, going 5-0. The Eagles have six receivers with between 215 and 331 yards receiving, and quarterback Christian Kahler has passed for 1,659 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions. The balanced Eagles also have rushed for 1,898 yards, including 729 yards and 14 touchdowns by Herbert Whitehurst.