Sometimes, a figurative kick to the face mask can serve a team a ton of good.
The Oak Ridge High School football team can raise its collective helmets in agreement that the manner in which it has responded to its lone loss this season has defined this group.
Since falling to now 13-0 Folsom by four touchdowns on Oct. 5 in a Delta River League opener, Oak Ridge has peeled off seven consecutive victories, none more emphatic and meaningful than the 24-6 thumping it laid on previously unbeaten Burbank on Saturday in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal on Florin Road.
"That was the turning point for us," said Trojans quarterback Jason Samuels, who led yet another balanced attack with two first-half touchdowns. "We never want to feel that again, losing. We know what it feels like to lose, how to get better. It helped us."
Oak Ridge (12-1) dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, the first time anyone can lay that claim against the Titans, who stormed to a school-record 12-0 start with speed and physicality.
Zach Claiborne, who anchors the defensive line, had five of the Trojans' eight sacks. Burbank's three 1,000-yard rushers were held in check for the first time this season, with little room to run and no clear path to the end zone.
The Titans managed 21 rushing yards when factoring in the sacks.
Now it's on to Friday's D-I final against defending champion Granite Bay at Sacramento State, where more strong line play is in order to maintain the momentum.
"Amazing job by the lines," Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere beamed.
The Trojans' offensive line of Cory Gregerson, Jacob Proul, Kareem Ballal and brothers Jason and Hekoti Chapman allowed Samuels to remain upright.
The Titans came in with a remarkable 88 sacks, including a state-leading 22 1/2 by defensive tackle Ngaly Tapa.
The Titans had none on Saturday, allowing Samuels to coolly hit Ross Dwelley for a five-yard touchdown strike and Byron Spain for a 25-yard score to highlight a 17-0 second quarter. The barrage was capped by a 26-yard Ryan Lamb field goal.
Blake Martin's six-yard touchdown run in the third quarter made it 24-0, and the defense allowed only a 39-yard touchdown pass from Ernest Jenkins to Calvin Green with 5:17 left in the third.
Samuels passed for 158 yards, and Martin ran for 58, Josh Wellman for 67 and Tanner Hughes 54 for the Trojans.
Oak Ridge's balanced attack will now challenge the formidable defense of Granite Bay, fresh off a 37-7 rout of top-seeded and previously 12-0 Franklin in the other semifinal on Friday night.
"The line play, that's all the dinners we've treated the linemen to," a grinning Samuels said of the family tradition to feed the hogs in the trenches. "We have a great offensive line and can pass and run."
Claiborne is joined on the Trojans' defensive front by Proul, Chandler Christy and Elijah English.
Unassuming out of pads at 6 feet and 190 pounds, Claiborne leads the state with 25 1/2 sacks. Not bad for a fellow who battled the flu and a sore knee this week.
"He's a great player," Proul said. "It's our Oak Ridge wall, and it's hard to bring down. Oak Ridge and Granite Bay, there's no better way to go."
More motivation for Oak Ridge: Granite Bay eliminated the Trojans from the playoffs last season, 21-12.