The state’s two bounceback teams of the year – one in the south and the other in the north – bounced around in a back-and-forth matchup on Friday night in the CIF Division I state bowl game at The Home Depot Center.
The final play wasn’t a bounce but a desperation heave with 25 seconds left that was intercepted by Aaron Knapp and gave Granite Bay a 21-20 victory over Long Beach Poly.
For the Grizzlies (13-3), the win capped a phenomenal turnaround from a 1-3 start that included a 48-13 loss to Oaks Christian of Westlake Village, which is from the same CIF Southern Section Pac-Five Division in which the Jackrabbits captured the title two weeks ago.
“We sure made it interesting,” said Granite Bay head coach Ernie Cooper. “It was two similar teams with similar seasons. It should have been a one-point game.”
Granite Bay (ranked 11th in the state coming in) won its first CIF state football crown and denied Long Beach Poly from winning its first since 1919. The loss by the Jackrabbits dropped the CIFSS Pac-Five Division champion’s record in the eight years of the CIF bowl games to 3-3, including 1-2 against the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section.
This one didn’t have the same feeling of an upset that Grant of Sacramento’s win had in 2008 over Long Beach Poly because it wasn’t in the Open Division, but it was still more evidence that prep football in the greater Sacramento area is equal to any other area in the state.Long Beach Poly (12-4) took a 20-14 lead with 3:47 left on a 10-yard run by Manusamoa Luuga, but the extra point attempt by Adam Daniels missed wide to left.
Despite that miss, Granite Bay still had to drive 77 yards from its own 23-yard line and had to score a touchdown to get the win.
The Grizzlies got themselves into position when Taft Partridge grabbed a screen pass and took it 33 yards to Poly’s 27-yard line. From there, Cooper’s Fly-Offense went to work on the ground. Partridge had runs of 12 and eight yards to Poly’s 7-yard line. Then with 1:12 left, Johnny Cooley (who we met the first time along with about 20 other Granite Bay players at last May’s Nike Sparq Combine) scampered through another hole on a misdirection play for a four-yard touchdown.
“I knew we had one good drive in us and thank goodness we got it just at the right time,” Cooper said.
“The line opened a huge hole for me but I had to bounce it,” Cooley said. “After that it was all end zone.”
Despite starting on the 40-yard line after the kickoff, the Jackrabbits could not get a first down and went for a big play on fourth down that Knapp picked off.
Granite Bay’s celebration then began after one kneel down. It is the crowning achievement – so far – for a program that Cooper started in 1996 after moving over from Aptos.
“They got some good licks in on us and we got some in on them,” Cooper said. “It was two good high school football teams slugging it out.”
Long Beach Poly came into the game ranked No. 6 in the state, but may only drop one spot in next week’s final rankings with the Grizzlies moving up just in front of them. Granite Bay also could move up higher depending on what happens with No. 5 Serra of Gardena in its game Saturday against Oakdale.
In the first half, Granite Bay had four chances for points inside the Poly 40-yard line, but only collected three on a 39-yard field goal by Colin Brown in the second quarter.
The Jackrabbits, meanwhile, struck gold on a trick play in the first quarter. Quarterback Eban Jackson took a flea-flicker off a reverse and hurled a long pass down the sidelines to Gerard Wicks, who tip-toed the rest of the way for a 40-yard touchdown.
One of the Grizzlies’ chances was stopped on downs, another ended on a missed field goal while on another flyback Tony Ellison had the ball stripped at the 38-yard line. It was recovered by Poly’s Iman Marshall.
Offensive Player of the Game:
Manusamoa Luuga (Long Beach Poly) 5-11, 200, Sr.
This is a hard call as you’d expect for a one-point game. Luuga had the best all-around outing, though, and gets the nod over Granite Bay’s Taft Partridge (8 carries 38 yds with four catches for 48). Luuga rushed 14 times for 110 yards with the fourth-quarter touchdown. He also completed a pass and caught one. Luuga, along with teammate Gerard Wicks, constituted a terrific one-two running back punch that drove Long Beach Poly to its second state bowl game.
Defensive Player of the Game:
Aaron Knapp (Granite Bay) 5-10, 165, Sr.
We actually have two defenders for the Grizzlies we’re writing up. One of them is Knapp, the other is below. Knapp, a top returnee from last year’s team, came up with the last of the team’s five interceptions (a record for any CIF bowl game). He also had an interception in the first half and was one of Granite Bay’s leaders in tackles with six.
Underclass Player of the Game:
Dylan Keeney (Granite Bay) 6-5, 210, Jr.
It’s obvious the Grizzlies have one of the state’s top sophomore linebackers in Cameron Smith (6-3, 220), but Keeney made a name for himself by intercepting a pass with 4:36 left in the third quarter and ran it back 29 yards for Granite Bay’s second touchdown. It gave the team a 14-7 lead at the time. Keeney also had another interception earlier in the game plus a tackle for loss. The lanky junior hasn’t actually started too many games for the Grizzlies, but the last name is well known among Grizzly fans. Dylan’s older brother, Brendan, was the Granite Bay quarterback for 2009, 2010 and 2011 and led last year’s team to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title.
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