It wasn’t a pleasant winter for a good number of the football players at Granite Bay High School last year.
The team limped home at a battered and beleaguered 4-7, the program’s 18th consecutive playoff berth serving as mere window dressing to the shattered feeling of defeat.
So the Grizzlies decided to do something about it. They rallied together, lifted weights with the intent to move mountains and then charged into a season of promise vowing better results.
On Saturday night at Sacramento State, Granite Bay delivered, belting Sierra Foothill League rival Del Oro 22-0 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship.
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It’s the first title for 16 returning starters, the second for the program since 2012 and sixth overall since 1999, three years after the school opened its doors in Placer County.
Brennan Holt had three first-half field goals and running back Evan Tattersall barreled in for a one-yard touchdown for a 15-0 lead after three quarters to cap a 10-play, 90-yard drive.
That drive came after a 4th-and-1 stop by the Grizzlies, who also had a 4th-and-1 stop with 7:44 left at their own 14 to protect that 15-0 lead. Granite Bay outgained Del Oro 151-19 in the first half and allowed 102 yards on 54 plays total in beating the Golden Eagles for the second time (28-21 in September).
“We knew we’d be a lot better this season, and we have been,” said Grizzlies quarterback Jade Foddrill, who capped the scoring with a four-yard touchdown run with 2:22 left.
Granite Bay (12-2) has especially prided itself on defense, particularly in the playoffs where the top-seeded team put the clamps on prolific teams such as 12-0 Del Campo last week in a 9-7 semifinal victory. The Grizzlies stopped Del Oro four times on fourth down in the second half, and seniors Ryan Fina and Jacob Ellis combined for 18 tackles.
Tattersall and lineman star Will Craig were starters last season and leaders with star power this year, and both are headed to Cal on scholarships. Other seniors emerged, too, including tight end Ryan Smith, receiver Matt Barron, linebacker Jack Powers and all-purpose performer Blake Peterson. Powers had four sacks and eight tackles and Jaylen Latson had two interceptions for the Grizzlies.
Granite Bay lost to Division I champion Folsom and to Oak Ridge in SFL play, learned from those setbacks and responded.
“I feel this year’s team has given itself a chance to be considered one of the great teams in the history of Granite Bay,” Grizzlies coach Jeff Evans said. “For that, I am ecstatic. More for them than for me. This is their high school experience. It is a great thrill to see it come together and it makes me proud to be associated with them.
“I wish I could take the credit but that goes to the kids. The job of the coach is to absorb the blame, not take the credit.”
Evans can speak of absorbing heat. It’s not easy replacing an iconic coach like Ernie Cooper, who led the five previous Granite Bay section title teams and rejoiced in the 2012 CIF Division I state-title conquest of storied Long Beach Poly. Evans is in his third season with Granite Bay, and 4-7 doesn’t rev up anyone in a region used to championship pursuits. He is now fully embraced by his roster and campus, and Cooper is still zipping up and down the sideline as Granite Bay’s freshman coach, more than pleased with that under-the-radar level of ball.
And Evans can relate to what Jeff Walters went through this season in Loomis. Walters took over as Del Oro’s coach after Casey Taylor won five section titles, two NorCal titles and a CIF state championship. Those are mighty headsets to replace.
“The difficulty of taking over a program from a guy like Ernie is extremely difficult from the outside looking in,” Evans explained. “A lot of the pressures and expectations that people place on me, or Jeff at Del Oro, are external. Trust me when I tell you that my expectations of our performance is much higher than other people’s.
“The good thing is, my expectations have nothing to do with wins or losses or championships. It has everything to do with development of character and a great experience for our players. Taking over for someone as great as Ernie is a good thing because that foundation in the program had already been set. Ernie is one of the great high school coaches in the state of California, and I have been around some great ones. There was a great blueprint to follow. My pressure is to make sure that I live up to that.”