GRIDIRON GRIT: How the Bear River Bruins clawed their way to a championship (VIDEO)
After the final seconds ticked off the clock and the initial jubilation subsided, Bear River’s senior fullback Austin Baze, a four-year varsity player, remained crouched on the field, overcome with joy.
He and his fellow Bruins had done what very few — other than the cardinal and gray faithful — thought possible. They had beaten their bitter rival Colfax 30-27 and won the 2017 Sac-Joaquin section Division V Championship.
It was the culmination of a long journey for Baze and his fellow Bruins.
The road Bear River took to the championship wasn’t an easy one — they rarely are. And, while they are one of seven football teams that will earn a Sac-Joaquin Section crown this season, the Bruins’ story remains special.
This tight knit group of “overachievers,” as co-head coach Terry Logue has called them, set out at the beginning of the season to flip their record from a year ago when they went 3-7. A seven-win season would mean a playoff berth and mark a solid turn around. A reasonable goal for a team coming off their first losing season in 28 years.
With a new season and a new slew of Bruins, Bear River roared to an impressive start.
They buzzed through their non-league schedule going 5-0 and crushing the likes of Marysville, Orland and El Dorado along the way.
But, then came Pioneer Valley League play and the Bruins began to struggle. Bear River lost one of their best players to injury and their league opener in week six, kicking off a stretch of three losses through their first four PVL bouts, including a 31-14 loss to Colfax on their own turf.
The season would come down to a “win and in” playoff scenario on the road against a surging and talented Center team.
That’s when these Bruins took the next step in their evolution and became the champions they are today.
Behind four touchdowns from Baze, the Bruins punched their ticket to the playoffs with an overtime road win.
This gritty, tough as nails team never wavered once it got into the playoffs, taking on and knocking off playoff combatants whenever and wherever. Bear River beat the heavily favored and defending D-V champion Cougars from Capital Christian on a Thursday night in Sacramento.
In the semifinals, the Bruins were right at home on a soggy field in J. David Ramsey Stadium when they toppled Ripon on a chilly Friday night in Nevada county.
All that led to an overcast Saturday afternoon in Elk Grove where the Bruins would face off with their rival from up the river.
Both sides sported legendary coaches, and both sides had teams deserving of the title. The 32nd meeting between the Bruins and the Falcons would be one of the best.
In true Bruins fashion they won it the same way they had won the previous three weeks — as a team.
With solid play from Luke Baggett, their senior quarterback and pad-popping, ball-hawking safety. With Baze reeking havoc on both sides of the ball. With hard-hitting linebackers Travis Carpenter, and Garrett Pratt filling the gaps and bringing the pain. With offensive weapons Tre Maronic and Calder Kunde flashing their athleticism and skill with the ball in their hands, proving they are a threat to score at any time. With a defensive line led by Kaden Ahlberg and Sam Davis that would make any quarterback quiver. With Alex Bohn, a strong-legged sophomore kicker. With an offensive line, led by Trae Nix, that had very little experience at the beginning of the season but got the job done week in and week out. They’ve got experience now. Championship experience.
And, with brilliant coaching. Longtime Bear River coaches and dear friends Scott Savoie and Logue, along with a high-quality cast of assistants, put together an impressive game plan that allowed Bear River to dictate the game on its terms.
“Four weeks ago you couldn’t imagine being here like this,” Logue said. “When you have to beat a good Center team at Center just to make the playoffs … and here we are Section Champions.”
Even before the title game Saturday, Savoie knew this team was special.
“Our kids have worked real hard and have hung together, and you keep hearing ‘family’ and you keep hearing ‘bond’ and that’s all real, that’s not fake stuff,” he said after Bear River’s semifinal win. “It’s not an easy thing to get 38 guys flying in the same direction, being selfless, being team guys. That’s a special thing, and I think that’s what separates the good teams from the great ones.”
For Logue, he now has his third section banner and Savoie his second.
“We’re going to celebrate this for a little bit more than a moment,” Logue said. “We’re going to call the ring guy Monday and get him up.”
The Bruins will savor this victory, as they should, but there is still business to attend to as they will soon turn their attention to an upcoming CIF NorCal Bowl game, the school’s first ever.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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