The word has become a sort of mantra for the 2012 Granite Bay (Calif.)
football team. It's what allowed the Grizzlies to overcome a 1-3 start to make it all the way to the section championship game.
It's also the word that coach Ernie Cooper invoked after his team won a 10th straight game to secure their second straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title Friday night — 35-23 over Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) at Sacramento State. Granite Bay won its fifth overall section title.
"On our wall it says 'perseverance' and that's what this team did — you persevered this year," Cooper told his team after the game.View the Qwixcore game log
The Grizzlies rode their three-headed monster of John Cooley
, Tony Ellison
and Taft Partridge
to rush for 549 yards on 51 attempts — an average of more than 10 yards per carry.
"We knew we had to run the ball to control the clock. We couldn't let them (Oak Ridge) control the ball game," said Cooper. "They can control a ball game on offense. They do so many good things. Our offset to that would be running the ball.
"Really proud of our O-line. Mike Lynch is our O-line coach, has been for 17 years. And our O-line played
tonight. And our running backs ran like there was no tomorrow."
Cooley ran for 126 yards on 21 carries, Ellison ran for 194 on 16 carries and Partridge, the team's fullback, ran for 235 yards on just 11 attempts, including an 84-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
"In last year's Section game when we beat Pleasant Grove ... all he (Partridge) did was block and lead us to a section championship," said Cooper. "I said tonight — I didn't tell him specifically — but I knew tonight, on my play script, he was getting the ball. Because that guy's a gamer and he's been waiting to have that break-out game. It was pretty good timing for it."
This wasn't the first time these two teams have met in the playoffs.
Granite Bay won its first SJS title in 1999 against Oak Ridge, with Oak Ridge exacting revenge two years later. Last season Granite Bay beat Oak Ridge in the second round of the playoffs 21-12.
The Grizzlies' journey to this year's title was anything but conventional, overcoming the 1-3 start to rattle off 10 consecutive victories, including a 37-7 thrashing of No. 1-seed Franklin in the semifinals. Granite Bay dropped its first two games of the season to Southern Section powers Westlake and Oaks Christian (Westlake Village), and lost a heart-breaker to Pittsburg, 28-27, in Week 4.
"We came out and played decently against Pittsburg, but we lost in overtime — a game we feel we shouldn't have lost." Cooper said. "We had to re-evaluate. We had to look each other in the eye and be honest with one another: 'We're a 1-3 football team. We better start acting like we're 1-3, meaning let's go back to work.' And, boy, our guys did."
The coaching staff, along with senior leadership from Nick Grace
, Beau Hershberger
, Aaron Knapp
, and Partridge began to put in the work to turn the season around, and eventually put themselves in position to win Friday night's championship game.
Granite Bay set the tone from the beginning, establishing the run early and often.
Cooley did the majority of the damage on the 11-play, 80-yard opening drive, eventually diving into the end zone from five yards out to give Granite Bay a 7-0 lead with 7:40 remaining in the first quarter.
The Grizzlies booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving Oak Ridge good field position to start its own opening drive. A third-down misdirection play from quarterback
to senior tight end Ross Dwelley
connected for 25 yards to keep the drive alive. Byron Spain
hauled in a 27-yard reception to get into the red zone, but on fourth-and-5 from the 10-yard line, Oak Ridge elected to get some points on the board and Ryan Lamb
knocked through a 27-yard field goal to make the score 7-3.
It was Ellison's turn to do damage on Granite Bay's next drive. He had a 19-yard run to start the drive and followed that up with a 23-yard run later on. Quarterback Grant Caraway
finished off the drive with a 9-yard pass to Steven Graber
to make it 14-3 with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.
Both teams had scoring opportunities in the second quarter, but neither was able to capitalize.
Oak Ridge put together a drive midway through the second quarter. A 19-yard pass play from Samules to Tanner Hughes
set up a first down from the Granite Bay 12. But a pair of penalties pushed the ball back to the 22 before the Trojans could launch their first down play. Eventually, on a third-and-12 play from the 14, Samuels' pass was intercepted by sophomore Cameron Smith
just outside of the end zone.
Partridge immediately broke off a 30-yard run to get Granite Bay back in business. Cooley followed that with a 14-yard run, eventually setting up a fourth-and-1 from the 17. The Grizzlies decided to go for it and Ellison ran 5 yards for a first down. But on the ensuing first down with just under a minute left in the half, Nick Gordon
intercepted Caraway's pass at the goal line, a nearly identical play to Granite Bay's interception just minutes earlier, to give Oak Ridge some momentum heading into halftime.
On Oak Ridge's opening drive of the second half, a fourth down play from the Granite Bay 47 ended in a 9-yard completion from Samules to Dwelley to keep the drive alive. A pass interference penalty then set up a first down for the Trojans at the Granite Bay 23. On third-and-five, Samuels scrambled, bought time and found Jacob Sipes
in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. The extra point was missed, but Oak Ridge narrowed the gap to 14-9.
A 31-yard pass from Caraway to Ellison set up Granite Bay's next scoring drive. Ellison capped off the 9-play, 90 yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to extend Granite Bay's lead to 21-9 with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter.
On Oak Ridge's next possession, Samuels had his pass picked off by
, and a 47-yard run by Partridge with 10:47 left in the game provided what appeared to be the final blow for Granite Bay, with the Grizzlies going ahead 28-9.
But Oak Ridge showed the same fight that got it to championship game, attempting to crawl its way back.Blake Martin
scored on a 2-yard touchdown with 9:11 left in the game and Samuels ran for the two-point conversion, cutting the Granite Bay lead to 28-17.
However Partridge quickly extinguished any spark that Oak Ridge may have gained with an 84-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession, giving the Grizzlies a 35-17 lead with 8:51 left.
The Trojans added a 19-yard touchdown pass from Samuels to Spain to cut the lead to 35-23, and then recovered the onside kick to take over with just under 7:00 remaining in the game.
Oak Ridge marched down field and had a fourth-and-4 from the Granite Bay 12-yard line, but Samuels' pass to Spain was incomplete, finally putting an end to the Trojans' comeback bid.
Samuels finished with 314 passing yards and two touchdowns, while Dwelley caught nine passes for 105 yards.
Oak Ridge finished the season with a 12-2 record, while Granite Bay (11-3) now awaits the decision on Sunday as to where and whom it will play.
If Cooper's post-game words are any indication, this Granite Bay team has much more football to play.
"We're going to do the same thing," Cooper told his team after the game. "I'll look at the schedule, but we are who we are ... I think we're the greatest football team in the history of Granite Bay High School."