At last! section champs
Grizzlies survive epic battle with enterprise, take Division 1 crown Lassen High School's football team finally got the job done, proving its many critics wrong.
The Grizzlies survived yet another epic battle against a "valley" team this year and walked away with the Northern Section Division I championship.
In a driving rainstorm, the top-seeded Grizzlies capped the most dominate football season in the school's history, edging No. 2 Enterprise 20-17 in front of a raucous home crowd last Wednesday.
Lassen (12-0) staged a game-winning, 15-play drive as E.J. Persons scored on a four-yard touchdown run with five minutes remaining.
Enterprise threatened with a drive of their own, but it was left to Ben Baker and Taylor Polan to put the finishing touch on an improbable season.
Baker's sack at Lassen's 24-yard line forced a third-and-21, and from there, Enterprise quarterback C.J. Blanc tossed two incompletions with Polan slapping down the pass, giving Lassen its second-ever and first section title since 1984.
"I can't explain how good it feels," Lassen head coach Tom St. Jacques said. "I'm still soaking it in. It's hard to win these things. It's unbelievable.
"I'm so happy for the kids and everyone who helped this program. We're glad to bring a title to this community."
Baker, a defensive end, had the game of his life. The junior recovered two fumbles, had a sack, scored the first touchdown of the game on a nine-yard fumble recovery and had a touchdown called back because of a penalty.
"I'm just glad to have helped the team get this far. It's pretty exciting," Baker said. "We had a lot of things happen during the season and we had to work hard to overcome them. I'm just proud to be a part of it."
Pass interference nullified Baker's 20-yard touchdown catch near the end of the first half and Mitch Lively pulled a 20-yard field goal attempt right, making it 7-3 at halftime.
After Baker's touchdown, Enterprise's Brody Angley kicked a 29-yard field goal. Then, the Hornets opened the second half by storming down the field on nine plays with Ben Jesson scoring on a two-yard run to put Enterprise ahead 10-7.
Then St. Jacques called the play he had been saving.
On fourth down as the Hornet's 37-yard line, Lassen faked a punt with the snap going to upback Ross Sobierajski, giving it to wingback Daniel Jimenez between his legs, who had to beat just one tackler before running 37 yards for a touchdown.
"When I was at Corona we won a league title with that play," St. Jacques said. "And we beat Paradise with that play in my first year (at Lassen)."
But Enterprise (9-3) needed only four plays to answer. Kenny Reeder hauled in a 26-yard pass from Blanc for a touchdown, pushing the Hornets ahead 17-14.
Starting in the third quarter and taking 7:57 off the clock, Persons capped the game-winning drive.
"We played much too tight, but I'm proud of my kids. We've been to three straight section finals," Enterprise head coach Clay Erro said.
"Beating Enterprise was extremely tough. Beating Foothill (20-14 in semifinals) was probably our toughest game, but they gave us real trouble at the line of scrimmage," St. Jacques. "They came at us with a an eight-man front and we had trouble handling the ball in the rain.
"So we had to go to the air and take our chances there."
Lassen quarterback John Black completed four of 12 passes for 50 yards and hit Cody Frailey twice for 20 yards.
"It was extremely tough conditions," said Black, who threw for 1,275 yards and 15 touchdowns. "We were having trouble moving the ball on the ground, so we had to count on the passing game."
Black hit Mike Wambgans on a crucial 22-yard pass on the game-winning drive.
Ross Sobierajski rushed for 45 yards in 16 carries. Persons had 20 yards in two carries.
Ryan Verboomen and Ryan Arredondo recovered fumbles. Enterprise coughed up the ball five times.
Again, Lassen cruised to another stellar season, courtesy of its defense. Yes, the Grizzlies scored 366 points, but Scott Brown's crew yielded a section-low 6.4 points a game.
"We did it with discipline, good coaching and scouting," said defensive coordinator Scott Brown, who had been with the program for 14 years. "At the beginning of the season, we didn't think we had a lot of talent at the defensive end of the ball. We had Ben (Wheeler) and Travis (Fitzpatrick), but the rest were young and inexperienced. We mixed it up a lot, shifting linemen on five and four-man fronts and formed sets according to who we were playing. We didn't blitz a heck of a lot. We just sat back and read and reacted to the football.
"Before the year started I thought we'd end up 3-7 or a little better, but the kids kept jelling and when they had to step it up, they did. We threw a lot at the kids to learn, and they took it in and came through when they had to."
The future looks bright, considering Lassen only started six seniors on both sides of the ball.
"We're losing some important players, but we started 15 underclassmen who have gotten some valuable experience," St. Jacques said. "Plus, those junior varsity players we pulled up for the playoffs saw what it takes to win big games. That is definitely going to help us in the future."
"We're only going to lose four bodies defensively," he said. "But we've got to get the kids right back in the weight room and get even stronger. We've got to get that 'refuse to lose' mentality. That's going to be what will make us win another championship."
"I'm excited about next year," Baker said. "We're going to have quite a team. There's going to be a lot of us coming back, which will make for a solid nucleus."
Sobierajski led the team in rushing with 735 yards and eight touchdowns in 103 carries.
Persons followed with 403 yards and six touchdowns in 44 carries. Frailey gained 379 yards in 49 carries and ran for seven scores. Polan, who missed most the year with a strained ACL, had 140 yards in 17 carries.
Black connected on 68 of 145 passes for 1,275 yards and 15 touchdowns. The senior threw just two interceptions. He hit Frailey 24 times for 520 yards and five touchdowns, and found Ryan Marshall 16 times for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Baker caught nine passes for 316 yards and four scores.
Sutter (11-0) pounded Corning 34-6 to win the Division II crown. The two teams are ranked in the state's top 10 among medium schools. The Cardinals finished second behind Lassen in the Westside League.
Leading 7-0 at halftime, the Huskies reeled off 27 straight points to put the Corning away. Brandon Lee Sutter with 14 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown. Corning's' Kyle Harbaugh ran for 86 yards.
Rio Vista topped Mt. Shasta 22-6 to win the Division III championship. Rio Vista got three rushing touchdowns from Ulises Abarco to upset the top-seeded Mt. Shasta.
Weed beat Hayfork 8-0 to claim the Division V title.
Lassen finished at 5-5 overall and 3-2 in the Westside League after beating Las Plumas 38-8 in the final regular season game.
After trailing the Thunderbirds 8-6 at halftime, the Grizzlies played their best second half of the season.
The offensive line - made up of Daniel Ithurburn, Chris Garcia, Jordan Black, B.J. Keefer, Cody Loflin, Nathaniel Mihoch and Richard Clark - dominated the Las Plumas linemen, opening up huge holes for Matt Falkowski and Cameron Dean.
Falkowski scored the first touchdown of the game and twice in the second half.
Lassen head coach Paul Prince praised the play of his special teams unit. Tyler Singh a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown.
"Tyler has been close all year long at breaking one and it was great to see him run one back," Prince said.
Shane Horst and Chris Lyons also have excelled on special teams.