By Joe Davidson
Ernie Cooper has a motto, short and sweet: "System over Star."
The plan has worked marvelously for Granite Bay High School to the tune of 10 league championships and five Sac-Joaquin Section banners since 1999 under Cooper, the fiery coach who leads his team onto the field on game night in a full gallop and doesn't slow down on the sideline.
But the veteran coach may have to tweak his mantra a bit: System over Star, with a playoff exception.
A week after backfield mate Taft Partridge rumbled for a career-best 235 yards, John Cooley chugged and sprintd for a lifetime-high 206 yards on 24 carries and four touchdowns to power the run-heavy Grizzlies past St. Ignatius of San Francisco 45-17 on Friday night in the first Northern California Regional Divison I contest.
A chilled crowd of just under 5,000 at Sacramento State saw Granite Bay's vaunted Fly offense grind away a sound defense that produced a 13-10 Central Coast Section Open overtime upset of NorCal power Bellarmine last week. But here, for much larger stakes in the form of a CIF State D-I Bowl game at Carson next week, the Wildcats (10-4) were no match for Granite Bay's physical and technically sound offensive line.
Nor did they have any answer for Cooley, who scored on his three of his team's first five drives in the first half on runs of 23, 11 and three yards. The powerfully built 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior capped the Grizzlies' opening drive of the second half with a 19-yard score.
Cooley was all star here, in performance and aduration of students who circled him before being ushered away. But Cooley talked like a team player. System over Star? It's deeply rooted into the core of every Grizzlies player.
"It's completely the offensive line," Cooley said. "Without those guys, no way I do this. Every week, someone does something big for us on offense."
And on defense, too. More stars within the system reside on that side of the ball, a unit that has excelled this postseason.
Aaron Knapp, a defensive anchor all season along with linebackers Beau Hershberger, Mason Cohen and Cameron Smith, put the finishing touches on his team's 11th consecutive victory and fifth success playoff effort with a 52-yard interception return for a 38-3 lead. Partridge made it 45-10 with 42 seconds left in the third quarter on a two-yard scoring dive.
In beating Oak Ridge 35-23 in the Section D-I title game, Granite Bay ran for 547 yards and had 606 total. Against St. Ignatius, granite Bay ran for 309 yards and had 122 yards passing from Grant Caraway.
Cooper emptied his bench in the fourth quarter. He said later amid hurried breaths that a key to his team's turnaround from a 1-3 start was going back to old-school Granite Bay football. In other words, hold onto the ball, run with purpose, pass efficiently and defend.
"We needed to go back to what made us Granite Bay football, and we have," Cooper said. "We're a really good running team and we can really play defense. We don't want to be a one-dimensional team, and we're not, but I went with the hot hand, and the hot hand was the running game."
The Grizzlies will rely on the run in Carson against a big and physical team of great tradition in Long Beach Poly, which beat Clovis North 28-7 in the SoCal D-I game.
"We'll milk this another week," Cooper promised.
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