There were some rough edges, per the norm for a season opener, but the upside is tremendous for both teams.
Bee-ranked No. 3 Elk Grove High School found new running backs to replace a record-setting one, saw familiar production from one of the region’s top quarterback-receiver combinations, and its ferocious defense played the part in suffocating talent-laden No. 4 Inderkum 37-6 on Friday night in Natomas.
Working behind a physical and motivated offensive line known as the Hammerheads, Jalen Brown rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns, Zion Thomas ran for 66 and a score, and Jayden Machado hit Gavin Reinwald for touchdown strikes of 56 and 13 yards to power the Thundering Herd, coming off of a 13-1 season and fully expecting similar results.
Elk Grove coaches were curious who would step up at running back in place of graduated star Ryan Robards, now playing baseball and studying engineering at Pacific. Robards earned Bee Player of the Year accolades after rushing for 2,884 yards and scoring 50 total touchdowns.
The Herd backfield welcomed a dynamic, quick and talented combination. Brown and Thomas ran hard with breakaway speed.
“They were really good, and so was the offensive line, and our mistakes – the turnovers – are correctable, and the defense ... can’t say enough about those guys,” Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon said after moving to 2-0 all time against the Tigers, the last meeting coming in his first season as head coach in 2008.
The defense, under coordinator Jeff Carlson, smothered a Tigers wing-t attack used to dominating. Inderkum went 12-1 last season, and though it features tight end Josh Falo, offered by Ohio State last week, and standout quarterback Trajon Cotton, another big recruit, the offensive line was overwhelmed.
Senior linebackers Jake Bellecci and Dylan Eldred led the Herd’s defense, covering inside and out and leveling ballcarriers. Other defenders who played well included Reinwald and Damario McLean.
Carlson, also known for his success coaching the Thundering Herd baseball team, was ecstatic with the effort.
“Outstanding, with a lot of guys playing well as a unit,” Carlson said.
Coming off another banner season, Inderkum’s longtime coach Terry Stark invited the chance to play the Herd, knowing his team would either hold its own or be exposed.
“We need a lot of work, and in a few weeks, we’ll start to figure it out,” Stark said.
Hunter Petracek boomed a 34-yard field goal and had a tackle for Elk Grove. She is a senior, admired by her teammates for her work ethic and skills.
Machado emerged as a starter last season, his favorite target being Reinwald, a Bee All-Metro receiver. Reinwald, a scholar with multiple offers, dazzled on his 56-yard reception. It was a short pass, and Reinwald took off, nearly losing his balance, righting himself, sprinting and then diving into the end zone to evade a tackle.
The senior was all grins afterward.
“We were definitely ready,” Reinwald said. “That was tough competition we played. We’re going to get better. A lot of credit goes to our coaches. They work really hard.”
Nixon offered kudos right back to the players, calling it a “very fun, coachable group. We can be really good.”
So far, the signs are encouraging.