Eric Cavaliere stressed urgency for nearly a month and the results were grim.
The Oak Ridge High School football coach approached this week’s “must-win” mantra differently, reminding his team that this is still about fun. The No. 14 Trojans can ensure themselves of a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff berth with a victory at top-ranked Folsom tonight, though that is one very tall order.
Folsom’s average margin of victory is 47 points, and the Bulldogs haven’t lost to a section team since 2011.
A loss to Folsom would leave Oak Ridge at 5-5 with a Week 10 bye. The Trojans in this case would have to await their playoff fate.
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“We’ve had a tough last four weeks,” said Cavaliere, who led the Trojans to the section Division I title game in 2012 and 2013. “We’ve lost some key starters, haven’t had a lot of consistency, and we’ve played some really good teams. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win. We went into the Granite Bay game (Oct. 10) saying, ‘We’ve gotta have it to be a playoff team,’ and we lost (38-24). We had the same theme against Del Oro (Oct. 17) and lost (35-14).
“We have not performed well with that pressure. This week, we’ve been more relaxed, and we’ve had a great week of practice. We told the team, ‘The pressure’s on Folsom. That’s the team that’s supposed to win and is expected to go to the state game. Let’s be loose and have fun and not make it a high-pressure week.’ And we’ll let Folsom know that Oak Ridge is here to play.”
Oak Ridge, led by quarterback Ian Book and running back Drew Lackowski, kept its playoff hopes alive last Friday with a 24-21 victory over Nevada Union to halt a three-game losing streak that started with a 59-21 loss to No. 4 Rocklin on Oct. 3. Cavaliere said Folsom presents many challenges, from record-setting quarterback Jake Browning (3,001 passing yards, 47 touchdown passes, four interceptions), a balanced running attack and strong offensive and defensive lines.
“Their offense is unbelievable and their defense has taken the next step,” Cavaliere said. “I’ve watched film of Folsom all season and thought, ‘That’s the best defense we’ve seen.’ Then I saw their Rocklin win (56-21 last Friday) on film and thought, ‘We’ve largely underestimated them!’”
Oak Ridge last missed the playoffs in 2007. It has won four section titles in nine title-game appearances to rank as one of the most successful programs in section history.
“We’re used to making the playoffs,” Cavaliere said. “And we want to get back.”
GPA wonders – Oakmont is mired in a difficult 1-7 season with injuries, turnovers and the suspension of several players linked to a campus marijuana investigation, but coach Tim Moore was feeling giddy about one positive statistic.
At the completion of the school year’s first quarter, 97 of the 146 players on three levels of the program combined for a 3.13 grade-point average. The varsity has a 3.23 combined GPA.
“The last few weeks have been very challenging for all of us,” said Moore, an Oakmont graduate. “It is gut wrenching for me to watch my football program bring such negativity to our school and community in which I have personally worked so hard to do the exact opposite for the last 15 years (six as head coach). I teach that winning in life is more important than any win on the field.”
As for the team GPA, Moore said, “This is not an easy feat, and it is not the first time our program has done this.”
Rankings moves – Folsom moved up one spot to No. 3 in the Cal-Hi Sports Top 25 poll behind defending CIF State Open Division champion St. John Bosco of Bellflower, which has lost only to national No. 1 Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas in a shootout, and De La Salle, which defeated Folsom in NorCal Open games in 2012 and 2013.
The CIF tweaked its bowl criteria this season so that the top team in the North (likely De La Salle again) and the South (likely Bosco) will have a bye to the State Bowl in Carson. Folsom is in the D-I race, provided it wins a section title.
Grant, ranked No. 2 by The Bee, remains No. 10 in the state at 8-0, its best record since starting 12-0 in 2010 as the state-ranked No. 1 team, before losing to Folsom in the section D-II finals, en route to a CIF state title.
Teams on the Cal-Hi rankings bubble include No. 3 Jesuit and No. 9 Del Oro.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.