The ground-and-pound era at Garces High has officially, once and for all, come to an end.
These are the new Garces Rams, the high-flying, confident bunch that isn't concerned with a bit of rain or championship pressure and kept the big plays coming in a 49-24 victory over Sanger on Friday night at Sam Tobias Field for the Central Section Division II championship.
"With this program, we want to be not just a section power, but a team considered a contender in the state," Rams coach Jim Maples said.
"This is the first of what we hope will be many section titles in this era."
"This era" could mean the Maples' tenure, which started this season after he spent two years as the team's defensive coordinator.
It could also mean the high-flying era -- the Rams scrapped their traditional wing-T offense for a multi-dimensional spread attack in the summer.
It paid off with a record-breaking season that Sanger (10-3) couldn't slow down in the championship, either. Garces (12-1) scored on a 75-yard touchdown run from Sheldon Croney on its second offensive play, the first of five Rams touchdowns that covered at least 40 yards.
"We've been doing that all year, and the guys did it again tonight," Maples said. "We just have a combination of guys that can make things happen."
Croney, a sophomore whose uncle is former NFL All-Pro Joey Porter, finished with 214 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Cruise Adams completed 12-of-15 passes for 243 yards and four TDs; he was 4-of-4 for 146 yards and three scores in the second half.
Jake Sweaney caught back-to-back long touchdown passes in the second half and finished with five receptions for 142 yards.
Sanger tried its best to keep the ball away from Garces with its veer-option offense, and the Apaches accomplished that early. They drove 11 plays on the opening drive before turning the ball over on downs, then -- after a Croney touchdown -- went 67 yards in nine plays and tied the game on Ryan Ramirez's 32-yard touchdown pass to Christopher Torres.
"We really did everything we wanted to do," Sanger coach Chuck Shidan said. "It just wasn't enough against a really good team."
Garces led 14-7 midway through the second quarter when its offense finally stalled. Adams, also the punter, looked as if he couldn't decide to throw the ball or punt, and his eventual kick was easily blocked by Sanger's Jose Padilla. The ball rolled to the Garces 12, and the Apaches had a chance to tie.
Instead, the Rams held Sanger to a field goal and kept a 14-10 lead.
"Our offense is really good, but I feel like the defense is the heart of this team," linebacker Cameron Pacheco said. "We've come up with some really big stops. We're like rabid animals out there."
After the Sanger field goal, Garces went on its longest drive of the night, a 13-play possession that lasted 4:55 and ended with Adams' 11-yard play-action touchdown pass to Angus Bellue.
"We had kept running the short route, and they were really starting to (put a body on) the receiver," Adams said.
"So we faked short and went long, and it was wide open. In the locker room, we knew we got the ball to start the second half, so we were going crazy."
That's when the barrage of big plays started. Three of Garces' first four possessions in the third quarter ended with a 40-yard TD pass from Adams to Bellue, a 54-yard Croney TD run and a 47-yard jump ball from Adams that Sweaney came down with in tight coverage for another touchdown and a 42-17 lead.
"And our pass defense has really been good all year," Shidan said. "That was the backbreaker. We had him covered perfectly, but what do you do?"