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November 17, 2012Granite Bay was ranked No. 7 in the preseason NCP Top 20 and after a 0-2 start, is finally playing like it after beating Downey 56-20. The Grizzlies unleashed three quality runners and held in check an explosive Knights' offense to reach the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semi-finals for the second straight year.
Granite Bay finished with 457 total yards and only a first half fumble by John Cooley prevented the Grizzlies from reaching the end zone on each possession. It started on the ground with Cooley, Tony Ellison and Taft Partridge. Ellison, the 6-foot-0 junior, is the fly back and demonstrated the patience and vision needed to man this position. While he gained the edge a couple of times, he routinely found his crease and ran through contact to average more than seven yards per carry (89 total yards).
Cooley was the top producer with 132 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and two scores. He is a good inside the tackle runner and can break it outside. Three of his carries went for more than 15 yards. At 6-foot-1, Partridge is a power back and scored on a well designed pitch play off a fake fly sweep in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Grant Caraway was efficient going 10-for-12 for 125 yards and four touchdowns. Ernie Cooper is one of the top play callers in the area and is especially good at passing calls in the red zone, where all four scores happened.
"We really grinded in practice this week. We put in some work into Wednesday where we usually back off a little bit," Cooper said. "We had to come in with physicality. We had to say we're going to run the football. We wanted to try and run some clock and our guys were able to do that."
While the offense was excellent, the defense also stood out in holding Aaron Zwahlen in check. The Hawaii-bound quarterback went 26-for-45 for 321 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Zwahlen and Downey operate out of the shotgun spread with four to five wide receivers. They take plenty of shots down the field, mostly to the sidelines, while also throwing bubble screens, curls and outs. The 2-star quarterback has good arm strength, but lacks mobility. He missed on a few throws in the loss and was betrayed by numerous drops.
Talking about its defensive success, Cooper said. "First of all, you can't give them the same coverage every time. You have to change up a little bit. Two, you have to get some pressure on (Zwahlen). You can't let him stand back there. Those (sacks) are always big plays. The third thing was we had to play fast. If they get one on you, they get one on you, but you aren't going to play slow the whole night and have them pick you apart."
In addition to the three interceptions, Granite Bay also forced a fumble and had two sacks. Downey came in averaging 465 yards, but only totaled 303 yards on Friday. The Grizzlies were selective in bringing pressure and outside of two deep passes, played the ball well in the air.
The lead recruit for Granite Bay is 3-star linebacker Beau Hershberger, who played under control coming off the edge to make a few tackles and also delivered a big hit on Zwahlen on the edge rush. He dropped into coverage on a handful of plays and hauled in an athletic interception in the fourth quarter. Sophomore backer Cameron Smith was also very good and a name which will continue to gain attention.
Up next is a matchup with Franklin-Elk Grove in a potential NCP Top 10 game and one of the top games in NorCal this year.