Joe Davidson

How big plays from ‘Rocket’ helped Del Oro launch its way into section title game

Del Oro’s Johnny Guzman (6) is defended by Inderkum’s Tim Gay during a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II game on Nov. 17. Guzman had two big scoring plays against Central Catholic on Nov. 24 in a 23-12 victory.
Del Oro’s Johnny Guzman (6) is defended by Inderkum’s Tim Gay during a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II game on Nov. 17. Guzman had two big scoring plays against Central Catholic on Nov. 24 in a 23-12 victory. Special to The Bee

He’s gone by “Rocket” since about the time he could race down a football field without losing balance.

Now a junior at Del Oro High School, Johnny “Rocket” Guzman has a nickname that fits, and his aim is a straight-line bolt to the end zone.

Guzman had the two longest plays of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs over the weekend. In seventh-seeded Del Oro’s Division II semifinal Friday against No. 3 Central Catholic in Modesto, he opened the second half with a 99-yard kickoff return for his team’s first score and first lead, and later pulled in a perfect strike from Carson Jarratt for a 97-yard touchdown to give the Golden Eagles the lead for good in a 23-12 victory.

Those plays left Central Catholic fans in a muted moment of disbelief. It was just the Raiders’ sixth loss in their last 70 games at David Patton Field.

Earlier this season, Guzman was Johnny on the spot with a 92-yard kickoff return to open the game in a 28-6 win over Monterey Trail.

So, what does it feel like to be all alone at warp speed down field?

“It’s definitely surreal and it gets my heart racing again when I watch it on film,” the 6-foot-2, 175-pound receiver said.

Guzman and friends will need breakaway plays against Granite Bay’s stout defense when the Sierra Foothill League rivals meet for the D-II championship Saturday night at Sacramento State. Granite Bay (11-2) – which beat Del Oro 28-21 on Sept. 22 in an SFL opener – reached the title game with a 9-7 win over previously unbeaten Del Campo in Friday’s other D-II semifinal.

Other unsung performers for Del Oro (8-5) on Friday were running back Brice Edwards, who had key blocks and a sealing touchdown run, and kicker Ryan Whalley, who boomed a 46-yard field goal against Central Catholic. Earlier this season, Whalley’s last-second 52-yarder capped Del Oro’s 16-14 win over Lincoln.

“I felt pretty good and it was the same kick as the 52-yarder,” Whalley said. “I just brought myself back to that moment and did the same thing. I like the big kicks. They’re fun.”

Veteran group – Coaches insist that nothing beats experience, and the most veteran-laden group left in the playoffs is Granite Bay.

The top-seeded Grizzlies returned 16 starters from last season to reach the playoffs for the 19th consecutive time, including Cal-bound seniors Evan Tattersall, a running back/linebacker, and lineman Will Craig.

Other key cogs include quarterback Jade Foddrill (1,82 yards passing, 14 touchdowns), Blake Peterson (558 yards rushing and seven TDs, 582 yards receiving and three scores), defensive back Ryan Fina (four interceptions) and lineman Jack Powers (nine sacks).

“We’re a senior-laden team,” Grizzlies coach Jeff Evans said. “A lot of great young men and players. Very thoughtful young men, very tough young men. We’ve seen it all come together.”

Love for the line – Folsom plays St. Mary’s in a rematch of last season’s D-I final, won by the Rams of Stockton, and the mandate is clear: keep the quarterback upright and provide lanes for the backs to break free. The Bulldogs seek their sixth title this decade.

The top-seeded Bulldogs (13-0) are again tough in the trenches with Tucker Dunbar, Matt Frost, Noah Lunday, Kaden Richardson and Joe Wagner. Coach Kris Richardson works with the line, imploring a familiar tune of, “Move your feet! Keep your pad level down!”

Message received.

“We have incredible skill guys, but if we can’t run block and pass protect, none of it works,” said Richardson, Kaden’s father.

It’s working. Kaiden Bennett has passed for 3,400 yards and 45 touchdowns, and the junior has rushed for 986 and 12 scores. Junior receiver Joe Ngata has 1,321 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns. Folsom has passed for 3,619 yards and rushed for 2,621 with 80 total touchdowns. Coach Richardson said Frost was “the most improved player on our team.”

‘Disrespectful’ scheduling – Social media users were in a fuss regarding kickoff times for this weekend’s title games. The section office went with Folsom-St. Mary’s with a 1:45 p.m. kickoff and Del Oro-Granite Bay at 7:45 p.m., basing it on expected crowds.

Del Oro and Folsom are big draws. The same cannot be said of St. Mary’s, a smaller campus without a true community backing.

Still, fans and followers howled on social media that it was “disrespectful” for the section to put its top Division I team in the early game. The section has made it clear that D-I does not mean the nightcap, as D-I and D-II are virtually even in talent and treated as such. In 2011, Folsom and Vacaville played the late game in D-II, and the D-I game between Granite Bay and Pleasant Grove was at 1 p.m. Fans then fussed that it was “disrespectful” that Folsom play the late game.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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