With Gregori High holding a two-score lead with more than 8 minutes remaining, senior free safety Isaac Zuk intercepted a pass and raced 68 yards for a pick-six that surely sent the Franklin bus driver searching for his keys.
As Zuk raced untouched up the visitor’s sideline, he didn’t have time to think about how his score essentially would clinch the Jaguars’ first-ever playoff victory.
“I was just looking back and forth hoping I wasn’t getting caught,” said the 6-foot-1, 165-pound senior. “I wasn’t thinking about any of that,”
After surrendering 14 points before the first quarter was halfway through, Gregori’s defense dominated the rest of the way en route to a 45-20 victory in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs Friday at Don Lanphear Stadium.
The No. 7 Jaguars (11-0) will travel to El Dorado Hills next week to take on second-seeded Oak Ridge (10-1), a 63-12 winner over No. 15 Lincoln of Stockton.
In addition to Zuk’s pick-six, there were red-zone interceptions by Evan Camarena and Marcello Longstreth, a fumble recovery by Longstreth, and two drives that were limited to field goals.
“The defense has been playing well all year long,” said Gregori head coach Jason McCoy, who was 0-3 the past three seasons in the playoffs. “This was a great test for them, you know, the Sacramento school and these guys rose to the challenge.”
Tenth-seeded Franklin plays in the much ballyhooed Delta League, one of two leagues in the section that is granted four automatic playoff berths.
“It’s awesome,” said McCoy, in his sixth season as the Jags’ head coach. “It’s just so cool for these kids, it’s so cool for the school, my principal that believed in us, my athletic director, the student body. … I’m just so thankful that I’m a part of this program.”
After Franklin (7-4) tied the score on Jalen Lampley’s 65-yard touchdown reception, the Jaguars went three-and-out on their ensuing possession and Longstreth’s punt traveled only 20 yards, giving the Wildcats excellent field position at Gregori’s 45. But on the first play from scrimmage for the Wildcats, the Jags forced a fumble that popped right into Longstreth’s hands. Gregori would eventually punt again, but the turnover stifled Franklin’s momentum.
The Jags pulled ahead 17-14 lead on Axel Lomeli’s 26-yard field just before the end of the first quarter, and they remained in front thanks to Camarena’s pick in the end zone and Longstreth’s interception at the 1.
Quarterback Bobby Avina threw his third TD of the first half – the first was a 40-yarder to Camarena on the game’s second play from scrimmage; the second was a 26-yard strike to Mason Medrano – when he hooked up with Trey Longstreth for a 76-yard bomb with 4:53 to play in the half.
Zuk’s pick-six was sandwiched by Gabe Sanchez’s 2-yard TD reception from Avina that made it 31-20 with 9:26 remaining and Lakari Benjamin’s 14-yard run that produced the final margin with 3:33 to play.
Unofficially, Avina was 14 of 23 for 265 yards.
“We want this to be the new norm for our school,” said McCoy, whose squad captured its first MMC title this season. “We want to be playing in the second and third round. We’ve got a bright future ahead of us.”