Granite Bay High School graduated a lot of football talent last spring, but first-year coach Jeff Evans sensed something during the summer.
The returning players liked to compete, and they embraced tradition, determined to return the Grizzlies to the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season.
“We knew we’d have a grinder group and we didn’t have to manipulate them to play hard,” Evans said. “We’re not the most talented group, and we don’t always pass the eyeball test, but we play hard.”
And they play together. When starting quarterback Brad Fina went down early in the season because of a broken collarbone, Kyle Kraft stepped in and was steady down the stretch against a stiff schedule. Granite Bay was an at-large entry in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs at 5-5, then backed it up strongly as a No. 9 seed with two victories – none more stirring than Saturday.
With the Grizzlies trailing 21-3 entering the fourth quarter at top-seeded Grant, Fina came off the bench to provide a spark. He threw two long touchdown passes, one to Scotty Henrichs and the game winner to Isaiah Lewis, as Granite Bay prevailed 24-21.
Evans said the quarterbacks’ mutual support throughout the season kept the team united. Evans – who replaced popular, successful Ernie Cooper as coach – has shown he’s willing to juggle the lineup to make a difference, including plugging starting senior linebacker Ryan MacIntosh into the backfield in a playoff opener against Downey of Modesto. In his first game at running back since his freshman season, McIntosh rushed for three scores in a 42-31 victory.
Henrichs, a senior wide receiver, has been a source of inspiration after nearly dying from complications of a rare illness that kept him hospitalized for much of the spring.
Granite Bay (7-5) plays at fifth-seeded Del Oro (6-6) on Friday in a semifinal. It’s a rematch of a Week 10 Sierra Foothill League meeting in which host Del Oro, needing a victory to ensure a playoff berth, won 17-14.
More motivation: Granite Bay’s senior class is 0-5 against Del Oro, including two games as freshmen.
Rumbling back – East Nicolaus hosts Williams on Wednesday night for the Northern Section D-IV championship, continuing a tradition of Thanksgiving-eve title games for lower divisions.
The Spartans (10-2) are led by running back Donavan Switalski, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior who has rushed for 2,494 yards and 31 touchdowns. Williams (8-4) is coming off an 8-0 semifinal win over two-time defending section champion Winters.
Volleyball – Granite Bay beat SFL rival Rocklin 3-0 to win the section D-II championship on Saturday in Lodi for the program’s second title in three seasons.
The Grizzlies lost twice to Rocklin in league play but improved, said coach Tricia Plummer, who guided Granite Bay to a 45-0 season at Division I in 2013. Led by captains Brigid Bell and Amanda Prather and Penn State-bound star Emily DeMure, the Grizzlies were extra motivated to win Saturday for senior libero Sara Fassler, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier in the playoffs.
Granite Bay hosts Pleasant Valley of Chico on Tuesday night in a Northern California Regional opener.
In the Division III final, Christian Brothers beat Vista del Lago 3-1 for the program’s second title in three seasons and seventh in different divisions since 2005. The Falcons had a coaching change at midseason, and assistant coach Nicole Link, a Christian Brothers graduate who played at Nevada, took over.
Christian Brothers is led by juniors Paloma Bowman, Erin Chelini, Erin Clark, Ryann Thomison and Ceyenna Tillman. The Falcons visit Campolindo of Moraga on Tuesday in a NorCal opener.
Woodland Christian was the other local champion, winning the D-VI final 3-0 over Stone Ridge Christian of Merced for its third title since 2010. Led by Megan Trottier, Grace Truesdale and Hannah Wyatt, the Cardinals host Redding Christianon Tuesday in NorCal play.
Basketball signings – Two Sacramento High four-year varsity starters signed national letters of intent: guard Christian Terrell with UC Santa Barbara and forward Solomon Young with Iowa State.
Folsom guard Jordan Ford, a two-time Sacramento Bee Player of the Year, signed with Saint Mary’s.
For the girls, 2015 Bee Player of the Year Gigi Garcia of McClatchy signed with Washington, though the forward-center will miss this season because of a knee injury. Sacramento guard Aliceah Hernandez signed with UC Santa Barbara, and Placer power forward-center Baylee Vanderdoes signed with San Diego State.
Bella Vista twins Rachael and Rebeccah DiRegolo signed athletic and academic scholarships with Cal State Los Angeles.