The Grant Pacers have been to the top of high school football heap, locally and statewide.
The trophy case includes seven Sac-Joaquin Section championships and a CIF State Open Division I banner in 2008, the only one from this section, all under coach Mike Alberghini since 1991.
Yet, Friday night’s 31-21 nonleague victory over Franklin in Del Paso Heights was one of the Pacers’ most important in recent years.
Grant lost its first three games by a combined 120-33 to still-unbeaten Davis, Central of Fresno (ranked 14th in the state by MaxPreps.com) and Eastside Catholic of Sammamish, Wash. (the top-ranked team in that state and No. 13 in MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25).
Those numbers usually go the other way on Grand Avenue in Del Paso Heights. But against Franklin (2-2), Grant was the Grant of recent years.
The Pacers outgained the Wildcats 471-306. Quarterback Peni Kaufusi passed for 277 yards and three touchdowns, two to Donovan Laban and one to Keionn Palmer, to avoid Alberghini’s first 0-4 start.
Grant trailed twice, as late as the third quarter, but regained the lead on Kaufusi’s 26-yard scoring pass to Laban and clinched it on Roynea Jackson’s 30-yard touchdown run with 1:40 left. Jackson rushed for 130 yards in 23 carries.
“It’s huge,” Alberghini said. “We’ve played a monster schedule so far. We’ve had some injuries. We got a couple guys back tonight. I think we’re going to get better every week.”
The Pacers looked considerably improved against a solid Franklin squad featuring Reagan Fonbuena, one of the top rushers in the section.
Led by Isiah Tupou (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) and Omar Norman-Lott (6-3, 305), Grant stuffed the middle and Fonbuena was held under 100 yards rushing for the first time this season (he had 96 yards on 20 carries). Grant intercepted quarterback Brandon Bautista-Rundgren twice, the last by Palmer late in the fourth quarter.
Palmer caught seven passes for 196 yards, and Laban had four catches for 76 yards, They worked sideline lobs and quick darts over the middle from Kaufusi.
“We executed everything we’ve been practicing,” Laban said.
Bautista-Rundgren scored on a 1-yard run and threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Mulik Johnson to give Franklin a 21-17 lead in the third quarter. Franklin is 2-2 after going 2-8 last season.
Grant hosts Granite Bay in a Sierra Foothill League opener next Friday. Franklin opens Delta League play against Pleasant Grove at Sheldon.