There isn’t a national recruit to be found on the entire roster. That’s generally the case for this small school nestled in Grass Valley and Lake of the Pines.
But what the Bear River Bruins lack in “wow” talent, they make up with grit, tradition and a lineup of guys who get after it.
For a storied program used to playing big, even as underdogs, No. 6 seed Bear River added another milestone moment Thursday night in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V opener in Rosemont, stunning tournament favorite Capital Christian 26-7.
Bear River needed to win its regular-season finale a week ago over Center in overtime just to get to this point, and it trailed 7-0 in an instant when one of the region’s leading recruits, D’Marcus Ross, pulled in a screen pass from Jake Cruz and raced untouched for a 77-yard touchdown.
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Then the Bruins settled down, refused to back down and turned the bracket upside down with stout defense and a tremendous night from senior Luke Baggett.
The quarterback and team captain tossed touchdown passes of 39 and 6 yards to Tre Maronic, found Calder Kunde for a 24-yard scoring strike and he ran for a 1-yard score to thrust the Bruins into next week with perhaps the biggest upset of the playoff’s opening night that includes 78 teams and seven divisions.
Bear River (8-3) recorded seven sacks and Kunde had an interception at the 2-yard line with 6 minutes to go to frustrate third-seeded Capital Christian (7-4).
All of this delighted co-coaches Terry Logue and Scott Savoie, good friends and throwback old salts who stress blocking, tackling and effort. They led a raucous post-game huddle, admitting that while they’re getting old, losing never does.
“We’re going to line up, hit you hard, knock you down, pick you up and do it all over again,” Logue said. “That’s what we’ve always done here.”
That recipe has rewarded the Bruins with one of the best reputations in the section, punctuated by 28 consecutive nonlosing seasons, a run all the more remarkable given the school has had declining enrollment. That streak ended last season, but the Bruins returned several key players, determined to make another championship run.
The Bruins stunned the Cougars 31-21 in a D-V semifinal two years ago, when Austin Baze rumbled in for three rushing touchdowns. Now a senior, Baze rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s regular-season finale to extend the campaign.
Bear River was so good Thursday it didn’t need Baze to dominate on offense, though he had his moments, helping the Bruins put the game away late. He is one of the program’s greatest players, a powerhouse runner at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds.
“He was great two years ago and he’s been so good for us, a four-year guy for us,” Logue said. “He’s been slowed with shoulder surgeries, but he’s a heck of a player.”
Baze attended Del Oro for a brief spell as a freshman and caught the eye of Casey Taylor, who coached the Golden Eagles to six section titles, two NorCal titles and a CIF State banner in 15 seasons.
Taylor is now in his first season at Capital Christian and, despite a young team with an army of returning players for 2018, he didn’t expect such a quick exit.
He spoke glowingly about Bear River and its classy coaching duo. Logue is a 200-game winner and has been the program’s co-coach with Scott Savoie the last 15 seasons.
“They’re very well-coached and they really make you work,” Taylor said. “I’m really impressed with them. They’re really physical, gritty.
“I have a lot of respect for those two coaches and what they’ve done and what they’re all about.”