Oak Ridge-Pleasant Grove tonight
EL DORADO HILLS — Justin Priest and his Oak Ridge High football teammates are anxious to play Pleasant Grove for a second time.
“It’s not easy beating the same team twice,” said Priest, a wide receiver. “They are an amazing team. We know we have to do better than last time.”
On Nov. 1 on the Trojans’ field, Oak Ridge posted a 28-14 win over its Delta River League foe. Tonight’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal matchup determines who plays for the section title.
Priest admits the league finale at Jesuit that saw Oak Ridge overcome a 21-point halftime deficit was the turning point. Since that game, the Trojans have come together — even stronger.
“It was a huge wake-up call for our team,” Priest said. “We have been working hard ever since.”
Last January, a month after Oak Ridge lost to Granite Bay in the section’s D-I finals, Priest and returning players started their offseason preparation.
“When we lost to Granite Bay, it definitely hit us hard,” Priest said. “(This season) we knew we had to come work out hard.”
In June, Oak Ridge participated in the San Diego State football camp, where the Trojans grew closer toward each other.
“We really came together — in and out of each other’s dorm rooms, staying up late … just bonding. That might have been one of the biggest parts of us coming together,” Priest said
This season, Priest, a senior, has played a vital role in the Trojans’ offense with 63 receptions for 931 yards and 15 touchdowns. In addition, he has 1,103 all-purpose yards, including 172 on punt returns.
Priest felt that in addition to pumping iron, increasing his speed was a factor going into the season.
“Working on my speed was the big thing,” Priest said. “Last year I ran a 5,2 (in the 40-yard dash) and now it’s a 4.7. That was the big thing for me.”
Developing soft but strong hands was also important.
“My hands were good last year, but this year I feel a lot more comfortable catching it,” Priest said. “If I get my hands on (the ball) I’ll catch it.”
Oak Ridge head coach Eric Cavaliere added, ‘The one thing is he’s stronger, confident and getting more opportunities. We’ve had a good core of receivers over the years and it’s difficult to get everyone the touches.”
What’s been a plus for Priest is his connection with sophomore quarterback Ian Book.
“Those two are on the same page, and they know where each other is going to be on the field,” Cavaliere said.
Priest, whose family has known Book’s family for many years, added, “We just work well together. I know where he’s going to throw it, and he knows where I’m going to run.”
When the season ultimately comes to an end, Priest has great memories forever etched in his mind. In particular, Oak Ridge’s 28-17 win over Granite Bay last week.
“I will never forget Granite Bay — that was one of the biggest wins of the year,” Priest said.
For a second consecutive year, the Trojans (11-1) play in the section’s D-I semifinal game. Cavaliere had a premonition his team would face Pleasant Grove (10-2) again in the playoffs.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Cavaliere said. “They are a high quality team. Look at their history in the playoffs. We played one of our better games, and as a result we were able to win. But we have to play our best game, again.”
Game time is 7 p.m. The winner plays the Jesuit-Folsom winner for the section title on Dec. 6 or 7 at Sacramento State.
Contact Mike Bush at 530-344-5079 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBushMtDemo on Twitter.