By Jeremy Balan
SACRAMENTO – A week after being crowned as the best team in the Central Coast Section, the St. Ignatius football team quickly faced a harsh reality on Friday night.
It is not one of the best teams in Northern California.
In their first appearance beyond CCS play in school history, the Wildcats were humbled in a 45-17 loss to Granite Bay in the Northern California Division I regional championship game at Sacramento State University.
The Grizzlies (12-3) scored in just four plays on the first drive of the game, forced a St. Ignatius three-and-out on the ensuing possession, then scored quickly again (this time on seven plays) to take a 14-0 lead with 7:26 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats (10-4) never got the deficit back to single digits, totaled just 226 yards of total offense (with a big chunk coming on a last-minute scoring drive with Granite Bay up 45-10) and could not stop senior running back John Cooley, who ran for a game-high 216 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 24 carries.
“They were a good football team – very strong and fast – and we didn’t have an answer to them,” said St. Ignatius senior quarterback Jack Stinn, who threw for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 13-of-29 passing. “We came out kinda flat, and they took it and ran with it . . . We flat out got our ass kicked. It doesn’t feel too good.”
Stinn’s 55-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Joe Lang with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter gave the senior 5,008 yards passing in his two-year varsity career, but that was one of the lone bright spots for the Wildcats.
St. Ignatius appeared to be back in its comfort zone after the two quick Granite Bay scores and worked its way down to the the Grizzlies’ 14-yard line with a 14-play drive, but settled for a 31-yard field goal by Michael Capitolo late in the first quarter.
The Wildcats only got one more first down in the first half and trailed 24-3 at the break.
“When we drove the field, we ran our base stuff,” said St. Ignatius head coach John Regalia. “We didn’t really feel like we needed to change anything. We just had to put a nice drive together and we did. We wanted to get more than three [points], but we got three.”
As much as the St. Ignatius offense struggled to get any momentum, it was the Granite Bay offense that dictated play.
The Grizzlies largely stayed away from their motion-sweep fly offense in favor of a straight-ahead rushing attack led by Cooley. Through gaping holes created by the Granite Bay offensive line, 12 of Cooley’s runs went for 10 yards or more. His fourth rushing touchdown, from 19 yards out, gave the Grizzlies a 31-3 lead with 4:37 left in the third quarter, then a 52-yard interception return by Aarron Knapp on the following St. Ignatius drive gave them their biggest lead of the game at 38-3.
The Granite Bay defense also played well, limiting the Wildcats to just 88 rushing yards, led by 52 on 10 carries by St. Ignatius junior running back Elijah Dale.
“I felt like we prepared all year to play our best game tonight,” said Granite Bay head coach Ernie Cooper. “We were pretty darn close to our best game . . . I just called the stuff on the script and it worked.”
A season packed with drama ended unceremoniously for the Wildcats, but the positives of arguably the most decorated season is school history remain.
The Wildcats won their first CCS Open Division championship and their 10 wins this season tie a school record.
“Titles don’t make us winners,” Regalia said. “What makes us winners is what we do with each other, the commitment to one another, the work ethic we build and the relationships we build. These guys are winners for that – no question about it. Titles are icing on the cake.”
GB: 10:27 – John Cooley 23-yard run (Colin Brown kick)
GB: 7:26 – Cooley 11-yard run (Brown kick)
SI: 0:25 – Michael Capitolo 31-yard field goal
GB: 8:41 – Brown 43-yard field goal
GB: 0:43 – Cooley 3-yard run (Brown kick)
GB: 4:37 – Cooley 19-yard run (Brown kick)
GB: 3:53 – Aaron Knapp 52-yard interception return (Brown kick)
SI: 2:28 – Andrew Vollert 3-yard pass from Jack Stinn to Andrew Vollert (Capitolo kick)
GB: 0:42 – Taft Partridge 2-yard run (Brown kick)
SI: 0:28 – Joe Lang 55-yard pass from Stinn (Capitolo kick)