CARSON Ernie Cooper had his Granite Bay High School football players wear their helmets on the 15-minute bus ride to the Home Depot Center on Friday night for an early game-face mode.
And they wore those hats when they filed off that bus, with Cooper, their energizer coach, leading the charge.
Some four hours later, those helmets were held high in unison and some tossed for good fun in the rain-soaked air of Carson to celebrate the program's milestone moment.
Using a late championship drive that epitomized the team's resolve all season, and then relying on a defensive stop, the Grizzlies rejoiced in their 21-20 triumph over nationally renowned Long Beach Poly in a CIF State Bowl Division I contest that was every bit as fun as advertised.
John Cooley scored the clinching touchdown on a three-yard dive with 1:12 to go to cap a 77-yard drive in a steady drizzle in facing a formidable defense that includes five Division I college prospects. The drive included a 34-yard screen pass from Grant Caraway to Taft Partridge to the Poly 27, then three Partridge power runs to set up Cooley.
Colin Brown kicked field goals of 41 and 37 yards and had the decisive extra point for Granite Bay.
Aaron Knapp sealed the Sacramento region's third State Bowl win with his second interception at the Granite Bay 11 with 25 seconds to go.
The Grizzlies (13-3) had five interceptions, including two by Dylan Keeney. Keeney's second pick was returned 29 yards for a 14-7 Granite Bay lead in the third quarter.
Poly took a 20-14 lead and missed the extra point on a Manu Lu'uga 10-yard scoring run with 4:48 to play.
Cooper tried to keep his team calm in the final frantic moments, then celebrated with his group. He composed himself long enough to shake hands with Raul Lara, the distraught Poly coach who has tasted bitter defeat by a Sacramento area team before.
Grant won the region's first State Bowl in 2008 with a touchdown pass with 1:11 to go to beat No. 2 nationally ranked Poly.
Cooper blew kisses to his wife Carol and daughter Miko before the game then seemingly shook hands and hugged everyone from Placer County afterward, wife and daughter included.
"The whole community of Granite Bay is here with us," Cooper said. "A lot of people made this happen. I couldn't be more happy for a group of young men. We persevered, and we're state champions."
Granite Bay started its season with crushing losses to two Southern Section heavies in Westlake and Oaks Christian, and then capped a 12-game winning streak with a spirited effort sure to last a lifetime against perhaps the most storied Southern Section program in Poly.
Tony Ellison led Granite Bay with 68 rushing yards with Cooley going for 52 and Partridge 38. Caraway passed for 118 yards against the most physical and fastest defense the Grizzlies have faced.
Poly came in with an 11-game winning streak and was led by Lu'uga's 104 rushing yards. It took a flea flicker for Poly to take a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, and Cooper said it took every ounce the Grizzlies had rest of the way to win it.