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High school football notes: Challenging nonleague schedule needed for SFL teams

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2C

Rocklin coach Greg Benzel can commiserate with Sierra Foothill League coaching rivals Ernie Cooper of Granite Bay and Casey Taylor of Del Oro.

Cooper and Taylor have received criticism for scheduling so many formidable nonleague opponents. The two defending Sac-Joaquin Section champions are a combined 1-7.

But Benzel said a challenging nonleague season is a must for those who hope to win what has consistently been one of the section's premier leagues.

"If you don't schedule tough, you won't be ready to play in our league," said Benzel, whose No. 13 Thunder finished its nonleague schedule 2-3 but on a high note Friday with a 31-22 homecoming win over previously unbeaten Inderkum. "Granite Bay and Del Oro may be 1-3 and 0-4, but you can bet they'll be ready to rock and roll when they play us."

While it didn't have Southern California powers on its schedule, as did Granite Bay and Del Oro, Rocklin played four teams currently in The Bee's Top 20.

The Thunder lost to No. 10 Pleasant Grove 35-21, No. 4 Oak Ridge 16-7 and No. 11 Del Campo 21-20. In addition to beating No. 9 Inderkum, the Thunder topped crosstown rival Whitney 6-0 in the annual Quarry Bowl. Whitney was ranked 18th by The Bee at the time.

"We have found ways to give games away and to let teams back into the games," Benzel said of the three setbacks. "But what's impressed me about our guys is that even without the (victory) payoff at the end, I don't have to worry about character. These guys get after it."

The Thunder kept speedy Inderkum contained and on its heels for much of Friday's game. The Thunder sacked quarterback C.J. Spencer four times, and Ryan Durgarian also intercepted a pass. Most of all, Rocklin minimized the speedy Tigers' momentum-changing explosive plays.

The performance reminded Rocklin fans of the 2009 season, when the Thunder beat Grant for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship, and then played Servite of Anaheim tough in the CIF State Bowl game in finishing 14-1.

Benzel, who is playing many juniors, has been pleased with how his players have responded. Several have stepped up to plug injury-related holes.

The biggest gap filler has been junior quarterback Logan Webb. He replaced Daniel Kniffin, arguably the team's best athlete and fastest player, after the senior suffered a separated shoulder late in the game against Oak Ridge.

In three games running Rocklin's pistol attack, Webb has thrown eight touchdowns, including four against Inderkum, with no interceptions.

"Logan's got a touch on the ball," Benzel said. "He's making great decisions and has established his confidence with the guys. That's not always easy for a junior to do."

Kniffin could be healthy by the league opener Oct. 5 at No. 7 Nevada Union. But as far as who might start should Kniffin be good to go, Benzel would only say that "it's a delicate issue and a good problem to have."

Metro test – One drawback for Sac High being a charter school is it operates on a different schedule than its Metro Conference opponents.

So just as the Dragons (3-1) are getting ready to play No. 3 Burbank (4-0) on Friday, the school started its three-week fall break.

"When there's no school, the kids don't eat as well, they stay out late, there's less structure, so that doesn't always bode well for us," said Sac High coach Paul Doherty, in his third season as head coach, seventh overall. "Our players are looking forward to Burbank. They're very good. But we're better than we've been, now that we've had our coaching staff in place for a while. Our kids are familiar with our (spread) scheme."

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