Friday night at home, No. 9 Grant had No. 2 Del Oro on the ropes, and a successful two-point conversion with 34 seconds left would have put them in the lead and given the young Pacers a huge upset.
Instead, a Jordan Davis point-after kick bonked off the right upright and Del Oro escaped with a 22-21 victory to stay undefeated at 8-0 overall, and 4-0 in the Sierra Foothill League.
Two Sheldon Conde touchdown runs of 14 and 24 yards led the Golden Eagles’ offense, which was held in check for much of the game. The game was marred by a fourth-quarter brawl near Del Oro’s bench.
Grant fell to 4-4 and 2-2, but coach Mike Alberghini sees a bright future ahead. The 72-year-old celebrating his 50th year of coaching a Pacers sports team said he’s not done any time soon.
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“We’re playing a little bit better,” Mike Alberghini said. “We still have a long way to go maturity wise. It’s mental preparation for games by some of the kids.”
Grant quarterback Xavier Johnson had to be summoned off the bench to go for a two-point conversion after he scored on a 1-yard sneak to pull the Pacers to 22-21. Johnson didn’t get to the line in time, the Pacers were flagged for delay of game, and they elected to kick the PAT and force overtime.
Johnson, a senior, opened the scoring on a brilliant 32-yard keeper and also threw a 68-yard scoring pass to Jaylon Moore.
“Talent-wise, we’re starting to be able to compete a little better,” Alberghini said. “ We have seven or eight sophomores who play a lot. Most of our offensive line are juniors. We’re still learning and we have to get or butt kicked and get tougher every week to try to make it to that point.”
The point Alberghini was referring to is where the Folsom High Bulldogs are now.
Rather than push for the Bulldogs to be removed from the SFL because they’re too good, as some other SFL heavies want, the Pacers respond that they appreciate the challenge of beating the top dogs. It wasn’t too long ago that no one wanted to play the Pacers. Alberghini found it hard to schedule non-league opponents who didn’t want to get bruised and embarrassed by the size, speed and toughness that were hallmarks of one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s most successful programs.
Alberghini is just a decade removed from his school’s first and only CIF state championship, a 25-20 upset of Long Beach Poly.
The Pacers missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1992. That snapped a section-record of 26 consecutive playoff appearances. Their 4-6 record last season was only the third losing record since the early 1970s.
It doesn’t get any easier next Friday as Grant hosts No. 1 Folsom.
“How well do we man up and handle that task? I’m not saying we can’t, but it’s a tough road. As far as making the playoffs … that’s fine. I’m glad we played the schedule we played. It’s one of the top schedules around,” Alberghini said. “Two of the teams we played out of league that beat us (Central of Fresno and Capital Christian) are still undefeated. It’s discouraging at times, because of the lack of maturity, but it’s also a blessing that we have so many young kids that are still learning.”
And likely returning.
Keionn Palmer is a sophomore wide receiver and strong safety. Starting center Elias Garcia is a sophomore. Akil Sohan, a backup quarterback and running back is also a sophomore and returns next week from concussion protocol. Tackles Isaiah Tupou and Omarr Norman-Lott are two-way starters.
“You find a way to hurt yourself and we’ve managed to accomplish it,” Alberghini said. “It’s essentially just growing up. Taking what you put into the week and then mess up in the game and accept the responsibility that you could have been a better player than that. Once we accept that, and don’t find reasons why we shouldn’t do things, we’ll be fine.”
Davis, a junior girls soccer star for the Pacers, was almost the heroine Friday night. She booted a 26-yard field goal in the third quarter to give the Pacers a 15-14 lead.
“She’s a hell of an athlete,” said Alberghini before the game of the only female football player he’s ever coached. “She does have the leg to kick field goals, and if we were down by two inside the 30-yard line we’d kick a field goal.”
Alberghini said Davis kicked off for the junior varsity last season and “made some hellacious hits last year, but we’re not going to get her hurt.”
“She plays soccer, gets straight A’s and is headed to college,” Alberghini said. “To me, to get one extra play out of an athlete is just not worth it.”