CARSON When Grant Caraway raced over to the Granite Bay sideline late Friday night at the Home Depot Center, the football season and a lifetime of memories hanging perilously in the balance, there was urgency in a sea of voices.
Then there was a pause and a collective calm.
For a team that stumbled to a 1-3 start in the heat of September, what was another speed bump on this championship journey to Carson for Caraway? The cool senior quarterback with off-the-charts grades dreamed of such moments.
"I was thinking, 'We just need one drive, one more drive,' " Grizzlies coach Ernie Cooper said. "And we got one, and it was a thing of beauty."
In one of the most remarkable late rallies in the history of the CIF State Bowl Game Championship series, which began in 2006, Caraway highlighted the program-defining 77-yard drive with a screen pass. Taft Partridge revved up hope with power runs, and John Cooley reached the finish line with a three-yard scoring burst as the Grizzlies toppled nationally renowned Long Beach Poly 21-20 in the Division I title game in front of an announced crowd of 7,361.
Caraway was not intercepted. He passed for 118 yards, 33 of those on a screen to Partridge on the final drive.
Partridge carried three times to set up Cooley, and kicker Colin Brown's booming extra point provided the final margin. Poly missed its extra-point attempt moments earlier.
"My first thought when that (Poly) extra point was missed is we're going down the field and win this thing," Cooper said.
Caraway's first thought was to seize the moment and to not overthrow the screen play.
"Amazing," Caraway said after the game. "(When the extra point was missed), I didn't have to pump up anyone. They were all ready to go. This is a huge win for our team and our program as a whole. We knew we could do it."
The fourth Partridge brother to come through the Granite Bay program had fresh legs on the final drive.
"The fourth quarter is Taft Partridge time," Cooper said. "He's in such great shape, and he runs low to the ground."
Cooper also knew he had two eager senior offensive linemen leaders in returning starters Kevin Blank and Justin Ramirez. They urged their coach to run the ball behind them.
Granite Bay also played another superb defensive game, a constant in this six-game playoff march. The Grizzlies didn't allow the explosive Jackrabbits to break many long runs, and Poly used a flea flicker for a 7-0 lead.
Granite Bay had five interceptions, one by Luke Bussey and two each by Aaron Knapp and Dylan Keeney, one of which he returned 29 yards for a score.
Defensive team leaders Tyler Arneson, Beau Hershberger, Mason Conen, Tony Milo and Cameron Smith also had typically strong games.
"Let's face it," Cooper said. "We did some nice things on offense, and we came through in the end, but our defense won this game tonight. I told someone this week you don't just win championships with defense, you win state championships with defense."
All this from a team that only returned five starters from its 2011 Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship group, broke in a new passer, two new runners and a host of defenders. But that is common for the Grizzlies (13-3) as Cooper generally fields senior-heavy teams.
In finishing with a 12-game winning streak, Granite Bay improved the Sacramento region's all-time State Bowl record to 3-2, including two conquests of Poly.
Grant used a late scoring drive to beat the Jackrabbits 25-20 in the first State Open Bowl in 2008, and Folsom prevailed 48-20 over Serra-Gardena in the D-II bowl game in 2010.
"I have great respect for Long Beach Poly and Grant," Cooper said. "But all week I was thinking if Grant can pull this off, we can, too. And you know what? We did."