It was a Black Friday frenzy as young men from Antelope and Rocklin pushed and shoved each other while fighting over an oddly shaped, pigskin-covered bladder of air. After 60 minutes, the No. 3 Rocklin Thunder emerged from the scrap with a 55-35 victory over the host No. 2 Antelope Titans.
The Thunder earned a ticket to next week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II final at Sacramento State, where they’ll play Sierra Foothill League rival Del Oro, which beat Granite Bay 25-17.
It’s the first section D-II title game for the Thunder since 2009, when it not only won the Sac-Joaquin Section title but reached a CIF State Bowl. Rocklin has made it to three Section finals and each time has faced Del Oro. Rocklin beat Del Oro 28-3 in Loomis on Oct. 9.
“We and Del Oro have come through the same tough Division II bracket and the same tough league, so in a sense we’re both battle hardened,” said Rocklin coach Greg Benzel. “Tonight, we didn’t punt until the fourth quarter, so it was evident that our guys were focused.”
Rocklin will ride the arm of quarterback William Floyd, who threw for 287 yards and four scores. He completed 20 of 23 passes, and one of the incompletions was a drop.
“We got on a roll there,” Floyd said. “At that point, it’s just my job to get the ball to those guys and let them make plays.”
“Those guys” included wide receiver Evan Michalet and tight end Wesley Preece. Michalet had nine catches for 181 yards and a 37-yard touchdown. Preece dominated early with five catches for 73 yards and touchdowns of 19 and three yards. He did not have a catch in the second half.
Andrew Turner had touchdown runs of one and 12 yards. Evyn Holtz, the Thunder’s leading rusher, had 80 yards in the first half and scoring runs of one and 12 yards but hobbled off the field in the third quarter and did not return.
Floyd said he expects another bruising game next week against Del Oro, against which emotions swell and the hits just keep coming.
“There’s just something about playing Del Oro,” Floyd said. “We just let our emotions out against them earlier this season after our tough (38-22) loss to Oak Ridge the week earlier.”
Antelope had nine sacks last week against Sacramento, but Floyd never faced any real, sustained pressure.
Antelope quarterback Montel Aaron, bound for Temple on scholarship, threw an interception on the Titans’ first possession. Antelope fumbled on the first play of its next possession and trailed 20-0 early in the first quarter. Aaron recovered from a bad first half by throwing for 222 yards and two scores in the second half, but every time the Titans wrestled momentum away, they had it for only a short time before Rocklin answered back.
The loss ended the greatest season in Antelope’s short history. The Titans, who have had just six varsity teams, finished 12-1 and made the section semis for the first time.
“It hasn’t hit me yet that my high school career is over, but it probably will when I get into the locker room and see all those down faces,” said Aaron, who threw for 2,445 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. “It was tough to dig a hole like that, but we fought hard. It was a pleasure every week to look to my left and to my right and see all these guys who I’ve worked hard with all these years. It was a great season.”
Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or @editorwriter001.