by John Parker, SureWest Sports correspondent
Carson - This fall has been a test of patience for the Granite Bay High School football team, so it should have come as no surprise that the Grizzlies waited until time had almost run out in the season to define it.
A three-yard touchdown run by senior halfback John Cooley, and the extra point from senior kicker Colin Brown that followed with 1:12 remaining, gave Granite Bay a 21-20 victory over Long Beach Poly in the CIF State Division I Bowl Bowl Championship game at the Home Depot Center.
"After the injury I was fine, I came back, scored a touchdown, we won the game, so I'm fine, it's good" said Cooley.
Cooley's rumble capped a six-play, 77-yard drive that took just 2:35 and featured a heavy dose of senior fullback Taft Partridge.
"I kept telling Cooper to milk for me all I got, milk me for all I got. He did that last year in the section game for blocking, this year it just turns out to be for running" said Partridge.
Granite Bay's winning march answered a quick, four-play, 48-yard drive by the Jackrabbits which broke a 14-14 tie with 3:45 to go. But Poly kicker Adam Daniels missed the point-after attempt wide left in what were progressively dampening conditions which opened the door for the Grizzlies (13-3).
At that point, and another late in the third quarter though, momentum appeared to have swung to the Jackrabbits' sideline. No bother, there was a time, right around September 17 to be exact, when a trip to the state playoffs seemed just as remote. Granite Bay's steely resolve in both of those scenarios - staring a 1-3 record in the face of knowing that's not who they were; and trailing to a storied football program in a championship game - is why they stand alone atop the golden state football podium.
After junior Tony Ellison, who led Granite Bay with 64 rushing yards on 12 carries, had fumbled for the second time, Poly (12-4) took over on the Grizzlies' 21-yard line with 7:41 remaining and the score tied at 14. But on the next play, Jackrabbits' senior running back Manu Luuga, the game's leading rusher with 110 yards on 14 carries, lost seven yards and on the play after that Luuga threw a goal line interception to Grizzlies defensive back Aaron Knapp to end the threat.
Stout play by the Granite Bay defensive front (INSERT NAMES) kept the Poly rushing attack at bay for much of the middle part of the game, allowing the secondary to feast on the occasions the Jackrabbits were forced to throw.
Granite Bay junior linebacker Dylan Keeney had two interceptions, including one that he returned 29 yards for a touchdown to give the Grizzlies a brief 14-7 lead with 4:36 to go in the third quarter. Poly answered on its next drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Ejay Johnson to John S. Smith.
"He's (Keeney) been a great special teams player for us this year, he's been a back up. We've been trying to get him in, but we're kind of a senior dominated team and we wanted to play those guys. We kept telling him to hang in there, and tonight his number called called and look what he did tonight. I'm very proud of him." said Granite Bay head coach Ernie Cooper.
Poly got on the board first thanks to some razzle-dazzle late in the first quarter. Gerard Wicks, in motion from left to right, took a handoff, pitched to a wide receiver who then tossed back to Eban Jackson who then found Wicks wide open down the right side for a 40-yard scoring strike.
Granite Bay did not get on the board until Brown hit a 41-yard field goal with 3:44 remaining in the first half.
The Grizzlies made a bruising statement to open the third quarter, taking the second half kickoff and embarking on a 12-play, 5:31 drive capped off by a 37-yard field goal from senior kicker Colin Brown. That drive appeared to have stalled five plays earlier, but senior quarterback Grant Caraway completed a 13-yard pass under heavy pressure to senior tight end Steven Graber on fourth-and-seven from the 37-yard line.
Caraway completed 11 of 23 passes for 118 yards. Cooley gained 48 yards on 12 carries, while Partridge notched 33 yards on eight carries with 27 of those yards on four carries in Granite Bay's final drive.