If Inderkum High School is going to get over the hump and win its first Sac-Joaquin Section Championship, the Tigers will rely on their high-powered ground game.
And it was on the ground that the second-ranked Tigers on Friday night improved to 8-0 with a 35-20 road win over Antelope in Capital Valley Conference play.
Inderkum led 14-7 at the half and outscored the Titans 21-13 in the second half. Aaron Espero rushed for touchdowns of 10 and 11 yards before a shoulder injury sidelined him the entire second half. When the Tigers’ other starting running back, Josiah Tyes, exited in the third quarter, Willie Hardy Jr. became the workhorse. No problem. He ran for 112 yards and a 29-yard score.
Inderkum sealed it with 1:59 left when quarterback J.J. Ray found John Lain from 16 yards out to take a two-score lead. Lain finished with three catches for 76 yards.
And the physical Inderkum defense? Espero at the safety position had a first-quarter interception and the defense forced two fumbles. The right leg of Brandon Berger set up a special teams fumble recovery with an onside kick in the third quarter.
“Our defense was aggressive tonight and turnovers really helped us,” Inderkum coach Terry Stark said. “In a game like this, the team that turns it over the most is probably going to lose. We strive to create turnovers and not give the ball up.”
Friday marked Inderkum’s 36th consecutive regular-season victory, dating back to 2016. Antelope had a similar streak from 2014-2017, winning 30 regular -season games in a row.
Another mouth-dropping Inderkum stat: The Tigers have won 10 or more games since 2006 and won the Tri-County league title 11 years in a row before being realigned to the CVC last year.
“We work hard like the other top teams in Sacramento,” Stark said. “We focus on doing the little things right as much as we can because that leads to wins.”
The Tigers have averaged 335 rushing yards a game this season, so it’s no secret they like to run even with starters out. Stark is the only head coach Inderkum has ever had, and his wing-T offense has given opposing defenses headaches throughout.
Earlier this season, the team rushed for nearly 500 yards against Sierra Foothill League power Del Oro, which Stark called the greatest nonconference win in program history.
Despite having high-powered teams in his time at Inderkum, the school has a history of coming up just short. Inderkum made it to the section finals in 2008 and 2009, falling 16-12 to Del Campo and 27-21 in overtime to Casa Roble, respectively. In 2014, the Tigers lost a 27-23 heartbreaker to Oakdale and lost again in 2016 to Del Oro, 35-13.
Winning a section title this year is on the mind of all Inderkum players and coaches.
“That is always the goal,” Stark said on if this year’s team can win it all. “We have to keep getting better and stay healthy in order to achieve that goal.”
Inderkum will face off against Yuba City next week, while the Titans will get a bye before facing River Valley in the regular-season finale.