High School Sports

No. 5 Rocklin backup QB plays hero in close win over No. 11 Whitney

The Rocklin players and crowd celebrate their 18-17 win over the Whitney Wildcats, Friday Sep 9, 2016.
The Rocklin players and crowd celebrate their 18-17 win over the Whitney Wildcats, Friday Sep 9, 2016. Special to The Bee

It wasn’t much of a rivalry in Rocklin when Whitney, the city’s second high school, opened in 2005 to freshmen and sophomores.

But it’s a rivalry now.

Friday night at Rocklin, Thunder players and coaches held aloft the perpetual Quarry Bowl trophy, a 50-pound slab of granite that gets chiseled with the winning team and the score each year. The new inscription will read Rocklin 18, Whitney 17.

And befitting a rivalry game with programs on a similar upward trajectory, a little-known player became a hero, helping to rescue his squad from consecutive Quarry Bowl defeats. Quarterback Cade Wyant, a sophomore, replaced starter Michael Nolan, who injured his shoulder late in the third quarter, and went on to throw an 18-yard, game-winning touchdown to Garet Ruffner.

“That was a play we call a lot and this time Ruffner was able to sneak across the middle, and I saw that he was wide open,” Wyant said. “We’ve scored with that play before. In fact, we did against Grant just to someone else. I know how big this game was and with Mike out I just had to step up. It was a great team win.”

Thunder running back Brenden Rakela had 150 yards on 30 carries to grind on the Whitney defense. It was ball control versus big plays in what the Rocklin locals affectionately call the “Battle for the Rock.”

“I wasn’t tired at all and I was happy when they kept calling my number,” Rakela said. “I’d be happy with 20 carries a game. But the crowd kept me pumped up. We know everyone on Whitney’s team, we see them all over town and at the movies. They were talking trash. But we got the win.”

Whitney relied on 57- and 56-yard touchdown strikes from Preston Eklund to Willie Brocchini and Mark Clark, respectively, to put its host on its heels. But the chance for Sacramento Bee-ranked No. 11 Whitney to score an upset over No. 5 Rocklin ended on a botched last-second field-goal attempt because of 12 men on the field.

“The players and coaches, they’re all friends off the football field,” said Rocklin athletic director Ryan Spears. “But on the field it’s a big deal. It’s a heated rivalry.”

Rocklin once had 22 granite quarries shipping the gray building material throughout the world. The state Capitol is largely constructed with granite mined in Rocklin, and it was Rocklin’s chief export that helped rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

There are no quarries still in operation and many of the deep granite mines are filled with water, including one adjacent to Rocklin City Hall in Quarry Park. The city recently opened an amphitheater at Quarry Park and it’s become a showcase spot for summer concerts.

But the real pride in Rocklin is in its two football teams.

Last year, it was Whitney High claiming the trophy for only the second time after a 28-20 nonleague win. Both teams were ranked in The Bee’s top 10 at the time and each reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs, with Rocklin advancing to play Del Oro for the section title.

The Thunder played the 2015 Quarry Bowl at Whitney without seven starters, including its quarterback and leading rusher. The players were suspended for violating team rules. Friday night, Whitney was without several starters who were ejected from last week’s 41-21 victory over Granite Bay for fighting.

Spears said the Del Oro Golden Eagles are perhaps the Thunder’s chief rival in all sports because of proximity and the fact that both schools play in the Sierra Foothill League. But that may change next year, Spears said, if the Wildcats move into the SFL, as expected with league realignment for the 2017 season.

Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at editorwriter@att.net or @editorwriter001.