Del Oro High School is famed for its ability to run the football, but the Golden Eagles added a wrinkle this season with the vertical passing of strong-armed quarterback Cole Saunders, who threw for 1,448 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season.
But the passing game wasn't in synch in a 21-14 loss to Granite Bay in Week 10, costing the Golden Eagles the outright Sierra Foothill League title, and the hangover continued through most of the first half of Friday's first-round Sac-Joaquin Section Division II 10-3 playoff win against visiting Oak Ridge.
Saunders completed only one of his first seven passes for seven yards against the Trojans, as his receivers dropped four balls that could have resulted in big gains.
So in the second half, Del Oro coach Casey Taylor went back to what the Golden Eagles do best - power football - to beat the Trojans and advance to Friday's semifinal game against Burbank at Del Oro.
So the question on a lot of folks' mind is weather the Golden Eagles should even waste their time trying to establish a passing game against the Titans, the Metro Conference champions who have agreed to give up their home-field advantage and play in Loomis.
Hunter Pahl, who had spent the first half at fullback last Friday blocking for Mike Makela and didn't have a carry, rotated with Makela at tailback in the second half, and Oak Ridge couldn't stop the duo.
Pahl rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and Makela, who finished with a game-high 93 yards on 23 carries, added 56 second-half yards.
They also took some pressure off Saunders, who was 2 for 3 in the second half and finished a respectable 7 for 15 for 89 yards.
"When we've been really good offensively this year, it's been the one-two punch of (Hunter) and Mike," Taylor said. "They complement one another well."
The Golden Eagles scored on a 10-play, 70-yard drive in the third quarter to break a 3-3 tie, then played keep-away with their final drive, a 22-play, 87-yard grinder that consumed almost the entire fourth quarter and ended on Oak Ridge's 3-yard line as time expired.
Three times Pahl got first downs on fourth-and-short runs, including the last that put the ball inches from the Trojans' goal line before Saunders took a knee three consecutive times.
Pahl said much of the credit went to the blockers, including fullbacks Jeremy Hart and Austin McQuade, offensive linemen Jason Heath, Cole LaBar, Ricky Ohrenschall, Jack Reynoso, Aaron Thomas and tight end Ryan Otten.
"We knew we had to get physical," Pahl said. "And our offensive line played great in the second half."
- Bill Paterson