Their backs weren’t just up against the proverbial wall in the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs. They were up against an idling bus ready to head home.
Elk Grove sweated out the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds in Division II , gasping plenty before exhaling and rejoicing. The Thundering Herd will take on Del Oro on Friday night at Sacramento State, expecting another frantic finish.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon said.
A week after holding Burbank on downs deep in its territory for an 18-12 victory, Elk Grove last Friday was seemingly on the ropes at Rio Linda in a semifinal. The Knights were driving for a touchdown late in the half, already up two touchdowns, when Noah Letuligasenoa scooped up Leo Skattebo’s fumble and raced 70 yards for a score that ignited a 22-14 triumph.
With 4:53 to play and leading 14-7, Rio Linda had 284 yards of offense to Elk Grove’s 43. After Tommy Arnold picked off a pass as a linebacker, he then led the Herd on a 95-yard drive as a quarterback that was capped by Spencer Sheff’s 16-yard touchdown run. Sheff then scored on a quick-snap, two-point conversion run for a 15-14 lead with 2:17 left. Arnold was then moved to fullback and freshman Tyler Vander Waal took over at quarterback to give the Herd a new look. Arnold sealed it with a 30-yard run up the middle for a touchdown with 1:43 to go.
After the game, Rio Linda coach Mike Morris sought out Arnold to offer appreciation.
“I would take Tommy Arnold in a heartbeat because the dude is a football player!” Morris said emphatically Monday. “He is what wins high school games.”
Fearsome threesome – Del Oro senior linemen Tanner Woods and Brandon Johnson, and tight end/linebacker Tyler Meteer are two-way players with the most experience on the Golden Eagles’ roster.
Del Oro’s strength has been line play, either defending the run or run- and pass-blocking for quarterback Michael Moore, who had five touchdown passes in a 52-26 semifinal win over Yuba City. Three touchdown passes went to Meteer, the school’s all-time receptions leader.
“They’ve been great for us,” Del Oro coach Casey Taylor said.
Said Nixon, “It’s time for them to graduate.”
99 Club – ’Tis the season to unleash length-of-the-field scoring plays, apparently.
In a section first, the playoffs have included four 99-yard touchdowns. In quarterfinal games, quarterback Chris Guillen of Christian Brothers hit Brandon Thompson for a 99-yard touchdown to beat American Canyon, and Calvin Green of Burbank had a 99-yard kickoff return against Elk Grove.
Last Friday, Tyrell Anderson returned a kickoff 99 yards for Center in a D-IV loss to Hilmar. On Saturday, Damen Wheeler of Sacramento raced in for a 99-yard score off a Caden Voges pass in a 48-38 semifinal win over CBS. Wheeler and his father are the only father-son combo to score on 99-yard plays in California postseason history.
Damen Wheeler Sr. had a 99-yard touchdown run for Valley in a playoff game against Grant in 1995, when he was The Bee’s Player of the Year.
Warriors again – Winters beat Hamilton 57-27 for the North Section D-III title, capping a whirlwind run as a No. 5 seed. The Warriors beat Trinity in a playoff opener for the school’s first playoff win since 2002 with coach Jack Delbar, who won four section titles and had state-ranked No. 1 small-school teams in 1978 and 1994. Jacob Lowrie passed for 151 yards and two scores and ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns, and Trevor Ray and Chaz Matthews combined for 285 yards and three touchdowns. All are juniors for coach Daniel Ward, a Winters alum.
SAC-JOAQUIN SECTION FINALS
Saturday at Sacramento State, 7:30 p.m.
• No. 1 Folsom vs. No. 3 Oak Ridge
Friday at Sacramento State, 7:30 p.m.
• No. 1 Del Oro vs. No. 3 Elk Grove
Friday at Lincoln High
in Stockton, 7:30 p.m.
• No. 2 Manteca vs. No. 5 Sacramento
Saturday at Lincoln High in Stockton, 1 p.m.
• No. 1 Central Catholic-Modesto vs. No. 2 Hilmar