Ernie Cooper has a motto, short and sweet: "System over Star."
The theme has worked marvelously for Granite Bay High School to the tune of 10 league championships and five Sac-Joaquin Section banners since 1999 under Cooper, the fiery coach who leads his team onto the field on game night in a full gallop and doesn't slow down on the sideline.
But the veteran coach may have to tweak his mantra a bit: System over Star, with a playoff exception. And he'll have to clear some room in the bloated trophy case, too.
A week after backfield mate Taft Partridge rumbled for a career-best 235 yards, John Cooley chugged and sprinted for a lifetime-high 206 yards on 24 carries and four touchdowns to power the run-heavy Grizzlies past St. Ignatius of San Francisco 45-17 on Friday night in the first Northern California Regional Division I contest.
A chilled crowd of just under 5,000 at Hornet Stadium saw Granite Bay's vaunted Fly offense grind away a sound defense that produced a 13-10 Central Coast Section Open overtime upset of NorCal power Bellarmine of San Jose last week.
But here, for much larger stakes in the form of a CIF State D-I Bowl berth in Carson next week, the Wildcats (10-4) were no match for Granite Bay (12-3). Not for the physical and technically sound offensive line or for Cooley, who scored on three of his team's first five drives in the opening half on runs of 23, 11 and three yards.
The powerfully built 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior capped the Grizzlies' opening drive of the second half with a 19-yard touchdown run.
He was all star here, in performance and adoration with students circling him after the game before being ushered away. But Cooley spoke like a team player. System over Star? It's deeply rooted in every Grizzly.
"It's completely the offensive line," Cooley said. "Without those guys, no way I do this. Every week, someone does something big for us on offense."
And on defense, too. More stars within the system reside on that side of the ball, a unit that has excelled this postseason. Defensive back Aaron Knapp an anchor all season along with linebackers Beau Hershberger, Mason Cohen and Cameron Smith put the finishing touches on his team's 11th consecutive victory and fifth successful playoff effort in a row with a 52-yard interception return for a 38-3 lead.
Partridge made it 45-10 with 42 seconds left in the third quarter on a two-yard scoring dive.
In beating Oak Ridge 35-23 in the Section D-I title game, Granite Bay ran for 547 yards and had 606 total. Against St. Ignatius, Granite Bay ran for 309 yards and had 122 passing yards from Grant Caraway.
Cooper emptied his bench in the fourth quarter. He said later amid hurried breaths that a key to his team's turnaround from a 1-3 start was returning to old-school Granite Bay football.
"We needed to go back to what made us Granite Bay football, and we have," Cooper said. "We're a really good running team, and we can really play defense. We don't want to be a one-dimensional team, and we're not, but I went with the hot hand, and the hot hand was the running game."
The Grizzlies will rely on the run in Carson against a big, physical team of great tradition in Long Beach Poly, which beat Clovis North 28-7 in the Southern California D-I game.
"We'll milk this another week," Cooper promised.