Joe Davidson

Rocklin High leaving opponents thunderstruck behind solid defense

Defense has been a reason Rocklin High’s football team has celebrated big wins over the years.
Defense has been a reason Rocklin High’s football team has celebrated big wins over the years. Special to The Bee

Defense has been a thunderous theme in Placer County over the years for one of its most prominent high school football programs.

When Rocklin High School produces its best teams, it is largely because there have been an abundance of stoppers, including seasons of 11-2 in 2005, 14-1 in 2009, 9-3 in 2014 and 10-4 in 2015, all under coach Greg Benzel and defensive coordinator Jason Adams.

Ranked sixth by The Bee, the Thunder are 3-0 behind linebackers Blayden Brown and Hunter Gonzalez, and cornerback Garet Ruffner. Quarterback Cade Wyant and two-way lineman Tyler Geide have also played well.

The Thunder led Grant 24-0 and won 24-14 in an opener, beat Napa 20-7 and on Friday turned the game against rival Whitney by pouncing on seven turnovers, including three interceptions by Brown, who returned one 26 yards for a score in a 40-22 Quarry Bowl victory.

Gonzalez has 39 tackles in three games, going for 15 against Grant and 16 against Whitney.

“We have a lot of seniors with defensive experience, leading to a lot of confidence,” said Gonzalez, also a wrestling star. “We can rely on each other. Kids are hungry for more.”

The Sierra Foothill League schedule, where defense will surely make a difference, includes The Bee’s No. 2 Granite Bay, No. 3 Oak Ridge and No. 5 Del Oro.

Holy win – No. 12 Jesuit rolled then-No. 16 Christian Brothers 43-14 in the 47th Holy Bowl on Saturday night at Hughes Stadium in front of more than 12,000.

Isaiah Rutherford had an 85-yard touchdown run, Josh Farr hit Evan Panson for a 70-yard scoring strike, Lorenzo Burkes ran 42 yards for a score and Jason Gallagher had touchdown runs of 44 and 1 yards.

For Christian Brothers, which dropped three spots in the latest poll, Gunnor Faulk had touchdown passes of 32 and 23 yards to Tyler Green and Spencer Webb, respectively.

The Bee-ranked No. 12 Marauders looked the part of Delta League title contender with a 43-14 rout of No. 16 Christian Brothers in the 47th showdown of rivals. A crowd of more than 12,000 – CB in blue, Jesuit in red – watched the action.

Cannon blast – Josh Cannon rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns and made 10 tackles to lift Highlands past Florin 41-12 for a 2-0 start.

“He’s old school, hard working, doesn’t come off the field,” Highlands coach Matt Cokley said of Cannon, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior. “He’s big, fast and plays sideline-to-sideline. He’s our Ray Lewis on defense and our Adrian Peterson on offense. He does it all.”

Terrific Tui – San Juan has a nifty 1-2 punch in quarterback Hogan Weaver and receiver Tui Viavia. Weaver passed for 394 yards and four touchdowns in a 67-40 loss to California School for the Deaf in Fremont, hitting Viavia for 190 yards and three scores.

“Tui may be the best in the city,” San Juan coach Greg Roezler said, adding that Sacramento State has offered a scholarship.

Lancers leader – Johnele Sanders passed for 350 yards and four touchdowns to lead Cordova past Rio Linda 34-33 in his first complete game at the position, and he showed remarkable poise, coach Darren Nill said.

Sanders hit Anthony Diaz for a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining, and Alvin Banks won it with the extra point. Banks had 11 catches for 252 yards and three scores for the Lancers (2-1).

Grant QB – Cordova’s 2016 quarterback starter transferred to Grant, where Xavier Johnson has taken over for projected starter Nate Thomas, who has not played a down as he recovers from having a cyst removed from his brain. Grant coach Mike Alberghini called Thomas one of his team’s top players and leaders.

Johnson showed glimpses of promise in the Pacers’ 19-0 win over Capital Christian, scrambling in his own end zone to uncork a 50-yard bomb. Johnson fired a 24-yard touchdown to Paris Warren to cap the scoring midway through the third quarter.

Justo gusto – Sam Justo rushed for 225 yards and four touchdowns in Mira Loma’s 40-34 win over previously unbeaten Natomas, giving the Matadors a 2-1 record. Under fiery and popular coach Toby Thurman, Mira Loma is a win away from matching last season’s victory total. A powerhouse in decades past, Mira Loma endured 0-10 seasons in 2013, ’14 and 15.

Who’s your choice? – Vote for The Bee’s Prep of the Week on (voting ends Thursday at noon). Send nominations or players worthy of mention to

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD