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Thunder down Atwater 35-6; Grant is up next

By: Russ Edmondson The Placer Herald
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Rocklin High senior running back Jackson Cummings scored five touchdowns as the Thunder defeated visiting Atwater 35-6 in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section, Division II football playoffs on Friday night. Rocklin (12-0) is a No. 2 seed in the DII playoffs while Atwater (8-4) was a No. 10 seed. Rocklin will play No. 3 Grant (12-0) in the DII semifinals next Friday night at a site to be determined. The winner of that game will play either Del Oro or Folsom in the DII championship game on Dec. 11. Del Oro beat No. 1 St. Mary’s 30-29 on Friday night while Folsom topped Granite Bay 42-28. Rocklin led 7-0 at the half as Cummings returned a punt 65 yards for a score with 8:53 left in the second quarter. Cummings then rushed for four touchdowns in the second half, two in each quarter. “Eventually a back like that will find the end zone,” Atwater coach Bob Valladao said. Cummings had a problem with his lungs this week and was having trouble breathing during the game. “The doctors don’t know but it’s something in the lungs,” Cummings said. “I just stuck it out. We had no momentum at halftime and (the coaches) said that we had to run the ball in the second half.” Cummings finished with 26 carries for 140 yards overall, rushing 14 times for 88 yards in the second half. “We knew going in that we would have to pace (Cummings) and shoot him in there when he felt the best that he was going to be,” Rocklin coach Greg Benzel said. “I think he realized that he had to suck it up and (his four second-half touchdowns) was a team effort.” Rocklin turned the ball over four times in the first half as junior quarterback Jimmy Laughrea was intercepted three times and Cummings lost a fumble. Atwater couldn’t turn the Thunder mistakes into any points. “We didn’t capitalize on their turnovers and we just weren’t able to put drives together,” Valladao said. Rocklin had the same problem in the first half as it intercepted two passes in the opening quarter (Garth Keffer and Andrew McEwan) but couldn’t convert the turnovers into points. “In the first half we weren’t very good. Give Atwater credit for having a good scheme but really we were not making plays,” Benzel said. “We didn’t take care of the football like we normally do.” Rocklin’s defense shut down Atwater all night and it forced three more turnovers in the second half. Thunder senior linebacker Sean Moore recovered a fumble in the third quarter and senior teammate Chris Clowdus intercepted two passes in the fourth quarter. He returned the first one (which was first tipped by Moore) about 45 yards for a touchdown but the score was called back due to a clipping penalty. “The defense was amazing – they were our stabilizing force tonight,” Benzel said. Rocklin lost senior linebacker Daniel Lessard to a knee injury in the second quarter. He looked to be in a lot of pain and his status for the Grant game is unclear. “Daniel is our team captain (on defense) and he’s Rocklin football in terms of what we require and we promote,” Benzel said. “But our guys have responded to adversity all year and guys step up . . . good teams rally and we feel like our guys will.” Cummings scored on runs of 10 yards (5:37 left) and three yards (2:11 left) in the third quarter to put the Thunder up 21-0. Atwater’s lone touchdown made the score 21-6 with 1:02 left in the third quarter. Nathan Sanchez completed a five-yard pass to Angel Molina for the score. Cummings then scored twice more in the fourth quarter, first from one-yard out (11:20 left) and from 17 yards away (7:19 left). Rocklin’s Vincent Barrow was 5-for-5 on extra points. Laughrea finished 9-of-23 passing for 97 yards with the three interceptions. His top targets were Kyle Garvella (three catches, 25 yards), Holden Huff (two catches, 36 yards) and Moore (two catches, 18 yards).