T.J. Ewing has a punchy way of describing his top football players.
“We’ve got dudes, serious dudes,” the Monterey Trail coach said of his primary playmakers and stoppers. “You’ve got to have dudes to compete.”
The Mustangs have dudes in abundance, and quite a few were on display Friday night in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff opener between Elk Grove Unified School District programs.
Seeded fifth, Monterey Trail used big plays, speed and defense to thwart No. 12 Pleasant Grove 28-14 in a meeting of one-time Delta League rivals.
Antonio Williams opened the scoring, returning a tipped pass 95 yards for a touchdown, a dude on the loose. And then Caleb Ramsuer delivered some dude moves to advance the Mustangs to next week’s round in Stockton against No. 4 St. Mary’s, which had an opening bye.
Ramsuer bolted for a 92-yard touchdown run to make it 21-14 on his way to a 162-yard rushing night. Prophet Brown tossed a halfback option pass 16 yards to Williams to make it 28-14. Brown was a member of Monterey Trail’s state-winning 400-meter relay team last June and looked the part. He had a tackle-breaking 72-yard touchdown score that was called back.
Other Monterey Trail runners included Otha Williams and Chris Lands. And more dudes dot the offensive line: Lathun Snipes, Andreas Argumedo, Daniel Ramirez, Kelepi Talakai, Mario Keanon and Jasdev Banwait. And on defense, dudes included Marcus Jones (13 tackles, two sacks) and Christian Calvan, whose 4th-down tackle in the fourth stopped the Eagles on downs and dashed their upset hopes.
Pleasant Grove star quarterback Nathan Valencia kept the Eagles in it, tying it 7-7 on a 1-yard plunge and tossing a 38-yard touchdown pass to Chris Wenberg to make it 14-14 before the half. He was one of an army of players who vowed to get the Eagles back on track after enduring an 0-10 season last fall. Spirited coach Matt Costa said the goal was to compete, and then came the playoffs.
“This is all house money now,” Costa said before the game.
After Monterey Trail (9-1) stopped Pleasant Grove (6-5) on downs at the 10 with 4:50 to go, Brown on fourth and 1 got three yards to help salt it away.
Ewing has had dudes galore over nine playoff trips since 2008, including three trips to the D-I section finals. The Mustangs went 12-1 last season with their finest team, falling to Folsom in the section championship game. Monterey Trail graduated a ton of talent, but programs reload, and Monterey Trail is every bit an established program.
“For us, it’s run the ball, speed and defense, and if you do that, you can win,” Ewing said.
When the Bay Area native took over brand-new Monterey Trail in 2005, the wins were scarce. The Mustangs started 1-19, learning the hard way that from-scratch programs take time to grow and learn.
When a junior program was installed, Monterey Trail became a complete program.
“We had early growing pains, learned from it, got better, but we never changed who and what we are,” Ewing said.
A 36-35 loss to Cosumnes Oaks on Sept. 13 jolted the then-Bee ranked No. 2 Mustangs and served as a wake-up call that has led to a seven-game winning streak. Cosumnes Oaks wound up as the No. 2 seed in the D-II field.
“Humbling,” Ewing said of the CO setback. “It reboots your program, shakes you up. It was a full moon. CO is good, well-coached, and they got us, and it helped us.”