This was one-stop shopping on the high school football grocery list of fun.
A Division II second-round playoff game Friday night between host Elk Grove and upstart Burbank dripping of talent and intrigue featured the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top running back in Wadus Parker, he of the balance, speed and power for the Thundering Herd.
The Titans from Florin Road featured the section’s quickest player in receiver/return specialist Calvin Green, and they trotted out the section’s post powerful prospect in 6-foot-3, 275-pound, good-luck-blocking-him defensive tackle Nglau Tapa. Each made plays, and it was Elk Grove’s ability to hold on late that sealed a heart-stopping 18-12 victory over the Titans in the first meeting between the programs since they were Metro League members more than 30 years ago.
Parker rumbled, slithered and scooted for 139 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns, including what turned out to be the game winner in the middle of the fourth quarter. Despite a tender ankle that has dogged him much of the season, Parker showed cutback ability and burst to reach the end zone on the deciding score, getting past Tapa, who has overwhelmed most all comers in his two standout seasons.
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Green, like Tapa headed to Washington State, electrified with a 99-yard kickoff return to cut it to 10-6 in the second quarter, blasting through and past a fast Herd team. That return is a national-tying mark that cannot be broken as high school players are not allowed to take kickoffs out of the end zone. Green also returned an interception 52 yards to set up an Ernest Jenkins 6-yard run for Burbank’s only lead of 12-10 early in the fourth.
And Green kept Elk Grove players and coaches anxious to the end as he pulled into two long passes from Jenkins on a final, frantic drive. The Titans misfired on their last gasp at the Elk Grove 8, turning it over on downs with a second to play, and the Herd took the final snap to stamp their ticket to a semifinal game at Rio Linda next Friday.
“The kids saved me,” Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon said, exhaling. “We kicked off to Green and he scored. We tried a trick pass and he returned it 52 yards. But we held on. What a game.”
Nixon said Burbank’s size and speed was a daunting challenge.
“Titans, that’s an appropriate nickname for those guys,” he said. “They are big, and they are fast.”
Elk Grove (11-1) did what it has in each of the past three seasons, two of which included 12-win seasons. It went with its strength, running behind an offensive line that goes by Hammerheads under position coach Moe Loller, and using Parker to grind away. Spencer Sheff rushed for 66 yards for Elk Grove.
“What Elk Grove does is feed Parker the ball, feed him, feed him, and sooner or later, it’ll pop,” Burbank coach John Heffernan said. “In high school football, if you can’t stop the run, forget about it.”
Noah Letuligasenoa had two sacks for Elk Grove, giving him 17 on the season, and B’won Canada had one and forced a fumble.
Heffernan said he will for years appreciate the efforts and personalities of his Metropolitan Conference champions who finished 9-3.
“I love this team and love these kids,” he said. “They give you everything.”