Brian Baer / Special to The Bee

Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper, center, and his defending D-I section champion Grizzlies have reeled off eight straight wins after suffering three losses.

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Prep football notes: Despite losses, Granite Bay still the team to beat

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 - 1:06 am

Entering this weekend's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals, Granite Bay has two more losses than the three other teams combined.

Yet it's hard to find anyone – perhaps other than Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper – who thinks the defending D-I section champion Grizzlies aren't the team to beat.

Fifth-seeded Granite Bay (9-3) plays No. 1 Franklin (12-0) on Friday night at Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove.

"Everything goes through Granite Bay," said Burbank coach John Heffernan, whose No. 2 Titans (12-0) play host to No. 3 Oak Ridge (11-1) on Saturday afternoon. "They're playing the best of any of us right now."

Granite Bay has shown it's a team that usually peaks in November and December. Last season, after finishing second to Del Oro in the Sierra Foothill League, fifth-seeded Granite Bay roared through the D-I playoff field, shocking No. 2 Pleasant Grove 30-24 in the title game at Sacramento State one week after beating top-seeded host Lincoln of Stockton 28-21 in a semifinal.

This year, the Grizzlies lost to Southern California powers Westlake (24-6) and Oaks Christian (48-13), both of Westlake Village, in the Battle for Veterans showcase on back-to-back weekends to start the season. They also suffered a 27-26 defeat to Pittsburg in Granite Bay that dropped the Grizzlies to 1-3 to start.

Since then, Granite Bay has reeled off eight consecutive wins, including 52-0 over No. 12 Napa and 56-20 over No. 4 Downey in Modesto last Friday in the first two playoff rounds.

In Cooper's share-the-wealth formula – he calls it "system over stars" – you'll rarely find a Granite Bay player among the section statistical leaders.

But it's that offensive and defensive diversity that makes the Grizzlies so potent.

Running Cooper's fly offense, quarterback Grant Caraway averages a modest 121 passing yards a game but has 24 touchdowns against only four interceptions. In the Grizzlies' playoff wins, he has thrown for eight TDs.

No Granite Bay running back averages 100 rushing yards a game. Yet seniors Johnny Cooley and Taft Partridge and junior flyback Tony Ellison have combined for 2,406 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns. Granite Bay's linemen – Parker Doyle, Kevin Blank, Justin Ramirez and Steven Graber – have paved the path.

Defensively, the Grizzlies have 181/2 sacks and 15 interceptions, but the individual leaders, respectively, are SFL Lineman of the Year Beau Hershberger (four) and defensive backs Aaron Knapp and Nick Grace (three each).

Linemen Tyler Arneson, J.R. Calton, Luke Jarvis and linebackers Tony Milo, Mason Conen and sophomore tackles leader Cameron Smith (121/2) also have contributed to a takeaway advantage of 23 to 10.

"I'm super proud of Ernie," said second-year Capital Christian coach Phil Grams, who spent a decade as Cooper's assistant and is still close to his mentor. "He's had a lot of coaching turnover in the last few years, yet he won the section title last year.

"I think that only validated that Ernie's the guy. Sometimes with assistants you can have too many chefs in the kitchen. I think with these last two teams, you've truly seen that they are Ernie's vision."

Cooper, who has 151 wins, 10 league titles and four section banners, was The Bee's 2011 Coach of the Year and is the Sierra Foothill League Coach of the Year this season.

And in a twist of irony, the three teams that beat Granite Bay earlier this season all have been eliminated from postseason play.

History-making Titans – Heffernan calls the 2008 Burbank team that lost 55-6 to Grant in the D-II section title "a special group."

But after beating Pleasant Grove 32-27 Saturday, the 12-0 Titans can easily boast of being the best football team in school history, regardless of how they fare Saturday in their re-match against Oak Ridge.

"The record and to beat Napa, Del Oro, Grant twice, and now Pleasant Grove, all in the same year, is phenomenal," Heffernan said.

"I tell the kids, you'll remember this season for the rest of your lives."

Burbank has had nine-win teams in 2011, 2008, 2007 and 2005 under Heffernan.

A foot up? – If there is an X-factor in Saturday's D-I semifinal between Oak Ridge and Burbank it's Trojans' junior kicker Ryan Lamb.

Lamb has booted 52 PATs and three field goals, including a 35-yarder last Friday that helped the Trojans edge Pitman of Turlock 17-16.

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