Trojans hold off Eagles; Hughes gets 3 TDs
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EL DORADO HILLS — Oak Ridge High’s varsity football program punched its ticket to the Sac-Joaquin Division I Section championship after a 26-20 semifinals win over visiting Pleasant Grove Friday night.
After a first half dominated by stifling defense from both squads, the Trojans established a viable running game in the second half to open up the offense en route to victory.
Pleasant Grove drew first blood with an early touchdown in the first quarter, while Troy answered with a 2-yard rushing touchdown by senior Tanner Hughes near the end of the second quarter. The PAT kick was blocked — locking in a 7-6 score heading into halftime.
“I think a big factor for us has been our conditioning,” Trojan head coach Eric Cavaliere said. “Some years you may have big, strong 275-pound linemen who can push people around but can’t run very fast or for very long — this year I think our heaviest lineman is somewhere around 205 pounds. Our linemen can play four quarters without slowing down and so, if it doesn’t look great at the beginning of the game they know they won’t slow down over the course of four quarters.”
The persistence paid off with 6:33 remaining in the third as Oak Ridge’s offensive line created space for Hughes to rip off another scoring effort on the ground. After a stout Trojan defensive stop, fellow senior running back Josh Wellman took advantage of two great blocks in the box to score on a 31-yard run. A successful two-point conversion pushed Oak Ridge to a 20-7 advantage.
The Eagles answered with a touchdown late in the third, taking advantage of a few coverage mistakes committed by the Trojan secondary to pull within six.
“Those (plays) were some kind of mental breakdown,” Cavaliere said. “Normally we don’t commit those mistakes … but we just encourage our players to keep working hard and keep improving. When you play a team like Pleasant Grove that can run the ball so well, and you have your eyes on the wrong place for two steps — they can also throw the ball extremely well. Their quarterback and receiver are going to find a way to hook up.”
Oak Ridge refused to let momentum slip into the wrong hands and pushed it to 26-14 midway through the fourth quarter with another Hughes touchdown run. Hughes was efficient, picking up 64 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries.
Pleasant Grove found the end zone with just over a minute remaining in the game, forcing the Eagles to attempt an onside kick to retain a chance at victory. The kick didn’t travel the required 10-yard distance, and Oak Ridge headed to the locker room with the victory.
Troy will take on Delta River League rival Folsom for the section title Saturday at Sacramento State.
“We’re not gonna reinvent anything. We’re going to try to do what we’ve always done and that’s try to get better and continue to improve,” Cavaliere. “We’re definitely an underdog coming in and we know that, but we’re happy to accept that role and we will run with it and do everything we can to get a win.”