They love L.A.: Grizzlies pound St. Ignatius, earn State Bowl Game berth
Fans of Granite Bay High School football could have begun making vacation, plane, train and hotel reservations late in the third quarter of Friday night’s CIF Northern California Division I Regional playoff game.
Senior Aaron Knapp made a leaping interception and took it 52 yards to the house to force game officials to prepare a running clock for the fourth quarter of the Grizzlies’ 45-17 domination of San Francisco-St. Ignatius at Hornet Stadium.
With a brand new NorCal championship plaque to add to its fifth Sac-Joaquin Section banner, gained a week earlier with a 35-23 win over Oak Ridge at this same Sacramento State venue, the Grizzlies (12-3) next will head to Southern California for their first try in the CIF State Bowl Games. Granite Bay will play Long Beach Poly at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at The Home Depot Center in Carson. Poly (12-3) defeated Clovis North 28-7 in the Southern California Division I playoff.
“We’re going to Disneyland. We’re going to SoCal for the big game,” said Beau Hershberger, Granite Bay’s senior linebacker, who put an exclamation point on another dominating performance by the Grizzlies’ defense with a late crushing sack of St. Ignatius quarterback Jack Stinn. “The preparation, the camaraderie … We can do this.”
Long Beach Poly will see that on film. It will see senior Johnny Cooley taking handoffs and pitchouts through the left side of the Grizzlies’ strong, grinding line and outside for 205 yards in 24 carries, including Granite Bay’s first four touchdowns. Poly will see another efficient — albeit quiet — passing game by quarterback Grant Caraway. And it will see yet another running game rendered ineffective by the Grizzlies’ ball-chasing linemen and linebackers.
What Poly won’t see on film is Granite Bay’s preparation. Grizzlies head coach Ernie Cooper saw that preparation last week and knew what was coming. Heck, he has seen that preparation since day one of summer camp.
“We felt like we prepared all year to play our best game tonight,” Cooper said as players and fans celebrated around him on a cold but comfortable evening. “And our guys played pretty darn well. We grinded the ball well. We scored on our first two drives, and that was the key to the whole game. We got a bunch of stops, and then Aaron Knapp took back that pick six. When he takes that thing back, I’m going, ‘Yes, we sealed it.’ ”
Knapp’s score widened Granite Bay’s runaway lead to 38-3 late in the third quarter. He was the first player other than Cooley to find the end zone, though kicker Colin Brown mustered enough leg for a 43-yard field goal and a 17-3 lead in the second period.
The Grizzlies, as they’ve done so often during what now is an 11-game winning streak, scored on their first possession. This one took all of a minute and change with Granite Bay going 68 yards in four plays. A 39-yard completion from Caraway to Tony Ellison and a 23-yard blast through a gaping hole up the middle by Cooley made it 7-0.
The Wildcats (10-4), who defeated San Jose-Bellarmine in overtime to win the Central Coast Section Open Division championship, misfired on three consecutive passes on their first possession, punted, and the Grizzlies marched 65 yards in seven plays with Cooley scoring on an 11-yard run up the middle again.
St. Ignatius appeared to have Granite Bay’s fly sweep marked early, and paid dearly. Cooley gained 10 yards or more on 12 of his 24 carries, mostly to the left side.
“I’m left-handed. I feel more comfortable,” said Cooley, an accomplished wrestler whose legs pushed and carried a pack of Wildcats defenders for a 13-yard gain and Granite Bay’s 22nd and final first down in the final minutes. “It’s all the O line. It’s the people in front of me blocking.”
Granite Bay’s usually balanced fly offense tipped decidedly on this night to Cooley, who touched the ball on 24 of the Grizzlies’ 55 plays. Caraway was 6 for 10 passing for 123 yards, but those completions were big. He flipped a screen pass to fullback Taft Partridge for a 28-yard gain on the Brown field goal drive, and Caraway’s 29-yard pass to Ellison set up Cooley’s three-yard touchdown run for a 24-3 lead with 43 seconds left in the first half.
“We thought we were going to pass more, but we went with the hot hand,” Cooper said.
And all the while, Granite Bay denied St. Ignatius. Junior running back Elijah Dale, who went into the game with more than 1,400 yards, was held to 50 yards in 10 carries. Stinn, not a high-percentage passer to begin with, completed 13 of 29 for 142 yards, 55 of which came on a hookup with Joe Lang in the final minute. The Grizzlies outgained the Wildcats 435-232.
Granite Bay came up with two three-and-out series and forced three punts in the first half. Stinn threw incomplete seven times to start the third quarter, a combination of missed targets and drops.
Even St. Ignatius' first touchdown came after a 75-yard kickoff return on a trick handoff from Albert Waters to Denis Shanagher. The Wildcats set up shop at the Granite Bay 20, but so stingy were the Grizzlies that St. Ignatius still needed six plays to score.
The coup de grace was Hershberger’s crushing sack of Stinn, which drew a collective “OOOHHH” from the Grizzlies’ side of the stadium and forced the quarterback to fumble. Granite Bay lineman Griffin Powers pounced on the loose ball.
“We had all their tendencies down,” Hershberger said.
Cooper’s excitement extended into the stands — to the band, Sac State’s bright stadium lights, the cold fog and hot food on a Friday night, and back to the campus.
“We’re not the only program that succeeds. It’s the whole package,” he said of Granite Bay athletics. “And I’m happy for them to get to experience this.”
Now, one more for the road.
Contact Bill Poindexter at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at BillP_RsvPT.
GRANITE BAY 45, S.F.-ST. IGNATIUS 17
St. Ignatius 3 0 7 7 — 17
Granite Bay 14 10 21 0 — 45
GB — Cooley 23 run (Brown kick)
GB — Cooley 11 run (Brown kick)
SI — FG Capitolo 31
GB — FG Brown 43
GB — Cooley 3 run (Brown kick)
GB — Cooley 19 run (Brown kick)
GB — Knapp 52 interception return (Brown kick)
SI — Vollert 4 pass from Stinn (Capitolo kick)
GB — Partridge 2 run (Brown kick)
SI — Lang 55 pass from Stinn (Capitolo kick)
RUSHING — St. Ignatius, Dale 10-50, Stinn 3-21, Waters 3-12, Wollitz 2-10, Lang 1-2. Granite Bay, Cooley 24-205, Ellison 9-51, Partridge 7-31, Caraway 2-13, Towery 2-12, Geraghty 1-0.
PASSING — St. Ignatius, Stinn 13-29-1, 137. Granite Bay, Caraway 6-10-0, 123.
RECEIVING — St. Ignatius, Lang 5-79, Vollert 3-28, Bell 2-12, Hulbert 1-15, Molano 1-8, Dale 1-0. Granite Bay, Ellison 3-80, Partridge 2-34, Graber 1-9.